If someone says “hi” to you, you say “hi” back. To not do that would be rude. But why? We’re socially wired to reciprocate. There’s a stress response called Tend and Befriend where we curate relationships based on anything we have in common in exchange for tribal safety in numbers. If you’ve ever been in a new group environment you can witness yourself adjusting your style of speech and body language to fit in. It’s a subconscious response in our wiring. The more secure we are in ourselves, the less this nervous system response kicks in. It takes stability to be authentic.
Our need to reciprocate works against us in the Attention Economy where this biological drive to connect makes us spend our time (ourselves) to repay attention in an unfair exchange that can cost us our stability.
What’s unfair about it?
When someone says “hi” to you passing by on the street it takes the same energy to say “hi” back. Compare that to how much energy it takes you to ‘like’ something on social media. You can ‘like’ something without even reading the content. Just a tiny touch of the screen and you’ve made a mark. How that mark is received is not energetically equal for most. Most of us put a higher value on ‘likes’ than they deserve. We spend our premium, sacred time and attention trying to get more of these little marks that require very little investment from the other people involved.
This is true of comments as well. It takes very little energy for someone to spew their opinion in response to your post; much less time than it probably took you to make that post. The need to reciprocate to all comments can rob you of energy and set expectations about how you will respond in the future. A circle of call and response takes over that might not match the actual budget you have for giving attention to what you truly care about.
This is not to say valuable exchanges cannot come from social media! I’ve met some of my favorite teachers and SH//FT members through those thoughtful exchanges.
When someone texts you, the biological desire to reciprocate clicks in immediately. If you have notifications turned on, you’ll be notified of the message no matter what you are doing. To not respond requires going against your biology. To respond immediately means switching attention from whatever you were actually doing which can include everything from cooking, being with your kids, and even driving. (I’m guilty of all) This type of switching adds up throughout the day. Scattering attention to reciprocate texts, emails, snapchats etc. weakens your presence and drains you attention reserve for real-time experiences.
One way to work with this drive in your favor is to batch how you spend yourself. Batch windows of time when you’ll respond to your notifications and audit the amount of energy you’re willing to engage with in things like comments on social media from a more stable, aware place.
When we give from a place of stability, we get stability in exchange. When we give from a place of need, we get needy.