The draw of the marketplace

A while back I wrote a post about why people love going to restaurants, in which I posited:

My theory is that we go to restaurants because the constant chatter of strangers around us, which we consciously tune out, is actually continually infusing us with a subliminal stream of ideas, topics to discuss, words and phrases to use, imagery to invoke when making our next observation.

In other words, the atmosphere in a restaurant contains a built-in mechanism to give us the illusion that we are smarter, more clever, more interesting. And our dinner partner is transformed in the same flattering way.

Now that the entire world seems to have suddenly discovered “social networks”, it occurs to me that we’re just dressing up old ideas in new clothes. The buzz one feels on sites such as Facebook goes all the way back to ancient times, to the draw of the marketplace, and to that alive feeling one gets in a crowd — even in a crowd of strangers.

In our evolution as a social species with advanced linguistic abilities, there has always been survival value in being able to “read a crowd”. Because of the Darwinian utility of this part of our genetic heritage, we get pleasure from the myriad signals that emanate in waves off of any gathering of fellow humans.

These days, the forum for exchange of ideas has moved from village marketplace to global cyberspace, so rather than haggle and hawk, we twitter and post. We have moved the ancient Agora on-line, but we have not changed its essential nature.

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