In his 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Abraham Maslow came up with a list of human needs. Stacking them on top of one another he formed a pyramid, at the peak of which lay the idea of “self-actualization”. Even today his theory is widely used in social research and psychology, and according to Maslow, belonging, or perhaps even the perception of it, is a need.

Man has not been designed to live in isolation. So in order to avoid isolation, we need to build relationships, of varying depths. We need a network, a group to belong to and connect with, for which interaction and communication are necessary.

A certain degree of commonality needs to exist among the group members. Something that gives a reason to people to come together and stay together; a common goal, a common purpose, a mission, a vision an ideology, or maybe a set of common beliefs.

I see people of my generation, or those ten or twenty years older and I see many friendships between apparently extremely different individuals. A group of friends, from different lines of work, different backgrounds (socio-economic, religious) who stick together like family.

In the past, the “real” world around us was the only place for us to find people to bond with. So in the absence of apparent commonality, people sub-consciously dug deeper and found values and ideas that matched, and used those to build the fabric of their relationships. Since the bonds were built on something that was rooted deeply within their psyche, hence the bonds too, were rooted deeply.

With the exposure we have today to the world through social media, we have more options and better chances of finding commonality. Not bound by physical space or geographical limits, we often find people we “click” with living in different time-zones. Someone somewhere looking for what we’re looking for. We see social media groups of people who think alike. This quasi-human interaction is nevertheless an interaction. And with no physical contact and “real world” interaction, it is purely intellectual. In this age of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the need to rely on the physical world for finding a group to belong to, is decreasing. So we find big, superficial “chunks” of commonality and use those to bond. A need is fulfilled. Those “chunks” of commonality are irresistible, and with their absence in real life we are naturally driven to find some means of preventing our otherwise inevitable isolation, online.

The unfortunate side of it is that the relationships and bonds thus formed are not always strong enough to stand the test of time, and hence not guaranteed to last long. But there are always more bonds to be made no matter how short-lived. Each one equally rewarding for as long as it lasts. Furthermore, since there is no need to see the incompatibilities or the shortcomings of the other person, or the differences that would otherwise have overshadowed the commonalities, there’s no need to develop tolerance. The pseudo-rapport and the promiscuous pattern of developing friendships thus, renders most young people incapable of making true bonds in the real world. We see a lot of that spilling over into marriages as well. Even in arranged marriages, there is more interaction through emails now, sharing of pictures online, and people end up finding chunks of commonality and get married, only to see the differences which they have not learnt to tolerate, and are thus not willing to put up with.

However, the bonds we make online somehow seem stronger and more fulfilling emotionally than those we make in the real world. Research says that such relationships are in many ways more “intense” than the ones in real life. So when that need is being fulfilled and we can move higher up on Maslow’s pyramid, it’s hard to say whether it’s a bad thing, or another phase of evolution we should welcome with open arms (and thankfully, evolved and functional thumbs).

Think about it.