Media Technology MSc

Research Seminar: Social Technologies

Objective Investigating technologies that support social living in the light of human evolution and exploring novel ways in which technology can create, maintain, or extend social ties.
Teacher(s) Max van Duijn
Course Level 500
ECTS Credits 5
Examination Homework assignments and research project

What have telling stories around the campfire, playing football, dancing on a festival, and spending time on Facebook in common? If we follow our evolutionary lineage back a few million years, we find a social primate that populated parts of the African continent. This primate lived in small-scale communities of around 40-60 individuals, about the same size as the groups formed by present-day chimpanzees and bonobos. Over time, however, our ancestors started living in social environments of ever increasing size and complexity. With groups growing larger, individuals had to spend more time maintaining their social networks and cognitive processing of social information became more demanding. As a consequence, we had to develop bigger and more powerful brains, and find more efficient ways of forming and maintaining social bonds than how most members of the primate family do this: through grooming.
In this research seminar a fascinating, adventurous hypothesis will be worked out: various “inventions” presumed to be characteristic of early human societies, such as the production of art, story-telling, dance, or ritualistic behaviours, can be viewed as social technologies supporting the formation and maintenance of complex social networks. What is the evidence supporting this hypothesis, and what could lead to its rejection? How does it relate to modern media and communication technologies? How can future technological developments affect the deep primate roots of our social structures? And what can the study of social technologies over millions of years teach us about the possibilities and limitations of social life in modern mass-societies?
Through active engagement with scientific literature and hands-on investigation of how people use present-day social (media) technologies, a rich and diverse perspective on this hypothesis will emerge.