Animals, Anthromorphizing and Social Media Loneliness

Recently in the news, there was a young boy, a toddler really, who was dragged off by an alligator(s) while visiting the Happiest Place on Earth in Florida. The results were people vilifying the parents (not watching son and ignoring no swimming signs), Disneyworld(not putting up signs stating there were alligators in that there lake) and the alligator for being a down right animal.  The folks who do these things actually caught 5 alligators, killed them, and opened them up to see if they could find the boy.   The news was full of how many times alligators kill people and the word unprovoked was used.

Yet not too long ago, there was a toddler (again those darn slippery toddlers) who got away from mom, crawled over a barrier and then fell ten feet or so into the Gorilla pit.  A big silver-back Gorilla, of course, went to see the commotion and grabbed the boy.  Gorillas are strong animals and silverbacks the strongest of them all.  The animal was dragging the boy around and doing decidedly gorilla things that only a gorilla would understand.  The zoo staff decided because anesthesia would take too long on an animal that size that the best course of action was to shot the gorilla in order to retrieve the boy before he was killed.  Goodness sakes. There was a public outcry. People blamed, the mom, the kid,  the zoo, society in general, everything, but the animal.

The loudest outcry was for the killing of the gorilla. “He was just protecting the boy from the scary screams from the mom and humans.” The same sentiment was voiced but not as strongly for the alligator. Why? Both scenarios were pretty darn the same. Both involved parents not controlling their child for whatever reason, (Hey I get it toddlers are FAST). Both places had barriers and signs that were ignored. Heck we see signs all day long. Many of them don’t even apply directly to us so we ignore them. Wading is not swimming.  Kids should be animals at the zoo; no climbing doesn’t apply to those who want to see.  Both involved dangerous animals, one killed the victim; the other was stopped before he could. The big difference, one is fuzzy and cute and looks much like us and the other is an overgrown lizard with bad manners.

So why  the  difference, why would we be so sure to know what the gorilla was thinking. Much of it has to do with our growing loneliness that psychologists say comes about from , in part, social media. Do you  remember that picture that went around social media about a year ago of the professor who took and held the baby while lecturing? Well, it turns out that he is Sydney Engelberg, PhD . After his picture went viral, he detected a lot of loneliness in the responses. He decided to find out why and he put it all together in his blog post entitled “The Loneliness of Social Media” (Engelberg, Sydney, Phd. “The Loneliness of Social Media.” Psychology Today. Healthprofs.com, 24 July 2015. Web. 17 June 2016.)According to him:

“Human beings have a need to belong, to feel an integral part of something greater than themselves: a cause, project, or living entity that outlives and transcends their own brief life-line. Seymour Sarason, in his seminal work on the psychological sense of community, described it as the feeling that one is part of a readily available, supportive and dependable structure that is part of everyday life. However, the need to belong, while having the potential to create an inclusive sense of community, idealism, and tolerance in some circumstances, seems increasingly to result in frustration and a sense of alienation.”

In other words, we have a deep need to belong.  Social medias give us the belonging and the narcissistic flow of feel good about your picture or your rant. We miss out on the social clues we get from being with others in person. On Social media, we can pick and choose who we talk to, who we consider friends, but a lot of people have “friends” whom they don’t know. While there are the healthy folks who have a balance between social media and real life, many do not. This brings me to the animals above. We, as humans tend to animorphize our pets  and those things that are around us daily.  According to Meeri Lee Sethi:

“Seventy-five percent of pet owners consider their animal part of the family.Eighty percent of computer users curse out loud at uncooperative machines.Seventy percent of people who own aRoomba—the much-hyped room-cleaningrobot—end up giving it a name.” (Sethi, Meera Lee. “Seeing Human.” Science Essayist (2008): Web. 16 July 2016.)

This is called anthropomorphism. Anthropormorphism is pretty common, Face it, you know you have named things in your life that have absolutely no way of being your friend. Your car?  Perhaps your computer?   While we all do this there is a stigma attached to it. That crazy cat lady? Perhaps she isn’t crazy as much as lonely. Dog lovers say they like dogs better because they respond to them while cats are aloof.  People are looking for that connection. It is practically hardwired into our brains to always be ready for a social interaction.

“Far from being irrational, anthropomorphism may be a perfectly rational response to the social isolation that seems to be reaching epidemic proportions in the United States.  ~ Meera Lee Sethi”

So we give a gorilla, who looks  bit like us, the ability to have human empathy and responses. Killing the gorilla was like killing a friend of ours. We spend much of our time, alone. Physically. Many do not interact at work, and if they do it is in short bursts and is usually work related. We interact with folks at home, alone, on the computer. Smartphones makes it easy for humans to cocoon themselves no matter where they are, thereby missing the human interactions around them. That is what are brains crave, we need other people for those social interactions that feed our brains.   There is evidence that loneliness leads to certain diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s.

While we can get some benefit from social media, the sense of community, belonging, perhaps the sense of influence, that feeling that people finally listen to us and our opinions, we need to go head and put down the phones, turn  off the computer and, if we have to , schedule some IRL (in real life) time that is not work time.  Go to the mall and say hi to someone. Eat out. Call a friend and get together for a walk or just chat one and one and really listen to them.  Basically do your brain a favor, and get out there and interact with other humans. Let’s remember our stuff is stuff and our animals are only animals.

Feature Image Credit:

Look Up | Gary Turk

Credits:

http://www.scienceessayist.com/Portfolio/Seeing%20Human.pdf
http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/15/us/alligator-attacks-child-disney-florida/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-practical-professor/201508/the-loneliness-social-media-part-three
https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25395
http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2016/05/28/police-child-taken-hospital-after-falling-into-gorilla-pen/85095094/