Maslow and the New Economy

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Abraham Maslow was a pioneer in humanistic psychology. He devoted much of his career to describing human needs and defining human potential. He believed that people have two kinds of needs, deficiency needs and growth needs. Deficiency needs are what you need to survive, such as food, water and shelter. Growth needs are quite different. They are needs to become more and more yourself. Each person wants to develop the abilities and talents he finds in himself. Some call it destiny and others call it fate. Some call it finding your purpose in life. Finding your purpose eliminates self doubt, inner conflict and confusion.

Maslow observed that it is extremely difficult to work on your growth needs if you have deficiency needs. The more energy a person must devote to obtaining food and shelter, or building up their own self-respect, the less time they have to identifying their purpose, or as Maslow called it “Self-actualization.” Self-actualization is not a process that has an end; it is a way of being, of continuously becoming more yourself.

As we now live in an environment which seems to be dominated by smart phones and computers we thought it would be interesting to revisit Maslow, and using his framework, identify what smart phones and particularly social media has done for us as individuals.

Maslow presented his work as a pyramid, or as it is called, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.”

Self-Actualization Needs

The need to fulfill one’s unique potential

Psychological Needs

Esteem Needs: To achieve, to be competent, gain approval and recognition

Belongingness and love needs: To affiliate with others, to be accepted and belong

Fundamental Needs

Safety Needs: To feel secure, safe and out of danger; Psychological Needs: Satisfy hunger, Thirst, Sex Drives

On the lowest level are the needs that every human must satisfy to stay alive. We need to nourish ourselves with food and water, and our natural sex drives are what keep humanity from becoming an extinct species. On the same level is shelter and safety.

It is not always so obvious today with apartments, housing, supermarkets etc. everywhere you look but in our ancestors day you can clearly see that from their waking hour the main objective was to find food and water for the day. Once that was done, they spent time securing their caves from potential threats. I don’t think they spent much of their day pondering thoughts of acceptance or what their calling may be.

On this level we can ask ourselves how smart phones or your social media accounts have helped. It is clear that they don’t provide actual nourishment or shelter. It can be argued to what extent they fulfill psychological or self-actualization needs and we discuss this further on in this post.  There are other technologies that are enabling new and innovative ways of building. Advances in biotech are allowing us to understand living organisms more so that we may find better ways of nourishing the planet and its inhabitants. In addition to technologies enabling creation, there are equally just as many technologies that are enabling destruction. Regardless of technology, each individual still has to think about satisfying their basic needs daily. It can be argued that for all of our recent technological innovations that have increased efficiencies, they have also put many individuals out of work. Statistics show that the homeless population in rich countries such as the US are growing. There are an estimated 553,742 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night, according to the most recent national point-in-time estimate (January 2017). This represents a rate of approximately 17 people experiencing homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population. Regardless of any technology, the fundamental needs of these people are not being met. These needs are their priority every night.

Those who have satisfied their fundamental needs move to the next level. They then become concerned with psychological needs. The need to affiliate with others, to be accepted and belong.  They have esteem needs which include the need to achieve, to be competent, gain approval and recognition.

This is the level where smart phones have taken over the lives of many. All of the current technology powerhouses such as Google, Facebook, What’s App, Instagram, Snapchat and so many more, have exploited this human need for belonging and affiliation with others. We have previously written about how these companies have gone to great efforts to analyze our actions and behaviors so that we are drawn to their platforms and stay as long as possible. It becomes an endless loop which can also cause opposite negative effects of loneliness and depression as people find themselves locked in a virtual world of many yet isolated from everyone.

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Our connected world has brought many people, separated by great distances, together. So it is not all bad, but like anything, too much of a good thing can produce harmful effects. Many users have managed to satisfy those psychological needs of belonging through these devices. Yet that dopamine and adrenaline rush produced from those feelings of love and acceptance from the 20 likes you may have received from your “friends” has also produced problems of addiction. It keeps you coming back for more. At this point, it is difficult to break free of that cycle and move to the top need on Maslow’s hierarchy, the need for self-actualization.

Those individuals that have their fundamental and psychological needs satisfied begin to ponder self-actualization needs which may include the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, or whatever else is required for the realization of one’s unique potential. Maslow believed that although relatively few people reach this level, the needs lie dormant in all of us.

Technology has not really produced anything ground breaking in terms of helping one to reach a level of self-actualization. Maslow observed that self-actualizing people are exceptionally spontaneous. They are not trying to be anything other than themselves. They know themselves well enough to maintain their integrity in the face of opposition, unpopularity, and rejection.  The people that Maslow studied also had a rare ability to  appreciate even the simplest things. They approached their lives with a sense of discovery that made each day a new day. They rarely felt bored or uninterested. It should be noted that no amount of wealth, talent, beauty, or any other asset can totally shield someone from frustration and disappointment. A certain degree of stress is built into the human condition.

All our technology innovations may enable us to reach certain objectives a bit quicker, although at the same time, they can restrict us from moving ahead. In the end, we are no better off considering that human needs have not considerably changed over our thousands of years of history.

Are you aware of anybody who has reached self-actualization? Have you made it there yet? You may find it interesting to ask yourself which needs are you currently spending most of your days trying to satisfy or how far you have to go before you can sit back and comfortably reflect on what your real life purpose is.