The basics of survival
At this moment in time we are all overwhelmingly focused on survival; physical, financial, practical, mental. Like all animals, humans need the basics of food, water and shelter to survive and we are having to confront the fact that these usually plentiful resources are in short supply. Something most of us will not have encountered very often, if ever. But beyond this, human survival is also predicated on the availability of social contact.
The power of cooperation
We survive as a species because we can rely on each other to subsist, to learn and to help raise our children and our whole being – our anatomy, physiology, psychology and behaviour – have evolved to ensure that we seek out this help and reciprocate it. This is why, at the most basic level, we have love – it is a form of biological bribery which rewards us for and motivates us to form and maintain the relationships with our fellow humans that ensure our survival. And this is why if we do not have social contact it adversely affects our physical and mental health – so ingrained is it into all the mechanisms of our body and mind.
The value of social media
More than ever before we need this love – with family, friends, parents, lovers and children – to help us through what is an incredibly hard time but our opportunities to be with those we love are rapidly diminishing. Ironically, as someone who spends much of their time advocating in-person contact and the limited use of social media – it is a tool we should control for its benefits rather than letting it control us and feel its costs – I find myself turning regularly to my phone or iPad to see and hear my friends and relatives, to share knowledge and check up on who needs help where I live.
In the absence of physical presence we are lucky to have developed a range of tools which can help us maintain our survival critical links to each other. It is social media and digital communication which will play a large part in helping us to get through this as unscathed as possible. This is the moment when our advanced abilities to innovate really come into their own.
Life on the other side
And if or when we do make it to the other side what will we have learned about who we fundamentally are? I believe we will have learned, when there is so much else to distract us in the normal world, that at the end of the day our family, our community are really what matters to us and that the other aspects of our lives can be stripped away but that we will fight to hold on to each other. My job is to answer the question what is love? Love is to survive. Love is human.
Dr Anna Machin is an evolutionary anthropologist, writer and broadcaster. She studies the science behind human social behaviour and love.