Web 2.0: Back to the “Hunter Gatherer” Society

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2006 at 3:31 am

Author: Marc Fawzi

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/marcfawzi

License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0


Fact: trusted individuals are once again the source of news in a society (bloggers)

Fact: word of mouth is once again how news spreads (viral marketing)

Fact: people once again hunt and gather in a group (del.icio.us)

Fact: people once again group things using words like small, big, happy, sad, funny, food rather than detailed hierarchical structures (tags)

Fact: impulsive consumption (i.e. “hunt and eat” or “click and enjoy”) and impulsive production (i.e. “less initial planning”, e.g. Google’s “betas”) are back in style.

Fact: once again, sharing between people cannot be explained with the strict concept of economic reciprocity and is being explained by the egalitarian and optimistic notion that what is good for all is good for one (YouTube, del.icio.us, etc.)

These are all traits of a hunter-gatherer society, i.e. a pre-agricultural society.

Tens of thousands of years of behavioral evolution wiped out in just a few years.

Human behavior and society have evolved for a reason. It may be that the Internet is simply freeing the hunter gatherer inside us, but I wonder if bringing out an ancient ingrained behavior will upset the equilibrium that was achieved through tens of thousands of years of behavioral evolution. I realize that the last statement sounds like the plot for Jurassic Park (the “hunter gatherer” in us as the suddenly reborn dinosaur ready to wreck havoc on modern-day socio-economic structures), but it’s a plausible suggestion given that the Web has already had a great disruptive effect on some industries, e.g. newspapers and soon the media hierarchy at large. Speaking of the media hierarchy, a hunter gatherer society is by definition incapable of supporting the concept of a formal, non-arbitrary social, economic or political hierarchy.

Is this where we’re headed? Should we expect the Web 2.0 hunter-gatherer behaviors identified above to make their way into society at large? And what effect will that have on the stability of our socio-economic system?

More relevantly, for the Enterprise 2.0 crowd, should we bring the hunter-gatherer behavior to the highly evolved socio-economic structure of the enterprise? (I can’t believe I just said “highly evolved” and “enterprise” in one sentence, but I’m speaking in relative terms here) Wouldn’t that be like bringing matter and anti-matter together? Won’t the two annihilate each other? Shouldn’t we try to adopt only those parts of the Web 2.0 paradigm that are compatible with the structures of the enterprise? Or how much change would be considered good change? And does the “hunter gatherer” based Web 2.0 paradigm represent progress or regression compared to what exists today in the enterprise?

These are good questions to chew on.


  1. The Unwisdom of Crowds
  2. Wikipedia 3.0: The End of Google?
  3. Self-Aware e-Society
  4. Open Source Your Mind


Web 2.0, Web 2.0, Anthropology, Trends, cultural anthropology, sharing, hunter gatherer, evolution, del.icio.us, YouTube, society, Web Evolution, hunter gatherer society, AJAX, file sharing, video sharing, behavioral economics, Enterprise 2.0

  1. 5-5-7

    predict not weather
    markets decide fate
    seek out competition

  2. The belief that our epoch is the high level of development to date and that we will continue to progress (what ever that means) is a tad arrogant. History is littered with the artifacts of highly developed civilizations with have disappeared from the scene, in some cases very rapidly. It would appear that people are still people with all of the attributes that people have always possessed. It is almost a certainty that our current societies will follow the same path. The only question is, will we live to experience the decline?

  3. Reminded me of this:


    In short, a stock market for employee ideas and projects. What I think that the “enterprise” can learn from the 2.0 crowd is something along these lines. Decentralize the decisions. Flat the distance between management and production. Take different risks… :)

  4. You’re assuming that the the hierarchical society is worth keeping…

    I find myself wondering if it wouldn’t be just as valid to say that 2.0 is more co-operative, collective and feminine than the hierarchical society you describe. I don’t have the mental bandwidth to run 2.0 through that analysis to see if it works, but given the mess that hierarchy has brought us to then maybe a flatter, more equitable, more open-source, more co-operative society could be a good idea.

    Ach, what do I know.


  5. "predict not weather. markets decide fate. seek out competition"

    Predicting the weather only works with the short term model, using our current approach and technology.

    Understanding the weather and complexity, however, is not only possible but it is essential.

    That way we can plan and regulate our agriculture and human activity to foster stable interaction with our environment.

    There are those who embrace chaos and thrive on it (to a degree and up to a point) and there are those who try to derive order out of it.

    Slef-organization vs planning. Embracing unpredictability vs trying to minimize it. Humans, since the dawn of the agricultural age, have been doing the latter. Now we find that technology and the science we constructed, out of all things, may be taking us back to the former.

    Where does that leave us?


  6. “Take different risks… :)”

    That’s what it all boils down too. We eventually get bored with the same routine, even if it’s working just fine. We have to change tracks every now and then. It’s part of our explorative nature to try new things and expose ourselves to new risks. It’s how we learn.



  7. "The only question is, will we live to experience the decline?"

    The decline could be an incline depending on which way your camera lens is tilted. Reminds me of that Monty Python episode where a guy trying to fly with a crude contraption jumps off a cliff and the audience at first think he's flying, until the camera is tilted back by 90 degrees.

    I believe that for any given idea we seem to go through a cyclical pattern as we're comparing and contrasting (as in the thin-client/thick-client cycle of the past few decades) and then total chaos after our learned experience hardens. It's a hysteresis loop in a pool of chaos. Same applies to our socio-economic structures (flat vs hierarchical), i.e. it's cyclical until the flat-hierarchical cycle breaks and we end up with true diversity in our socio-economic structures. I had more thoughts on that in the "Web 2.0: Decide and Conquer" article, which ends with a rather the naive statement of "Decide and Conquer" (supposed to be "practical sarcasm" not to be taken literally)

    In other words, the answer to your question is that I don't think of it as a decline. More like a bifurcation process leading to a diverse and unpredictable mix of flat, hierarchical and other structures … So Web 2.0 represents a progress in the process of evolution but not an absolute one! The real progress in my opinion is when this finally leads to a diversity of choices in terms our socio-economic structures. We shouldn't have to make black and white choices as a civilization. Let's mix it up, like mother nature does every so often.


  8. All I know is that as soon as someone develops a device that allows people to tag each other, things are going to get very, very interesting.

  9. "All I know is that as soon as someone develops a device that allows people to tag each other, things are going to get very, very interesting."


    This is exactly the type of egalitarian sharing that, when manifested on a large enough scale, e.g. the Web, points to the emergence of hunter-gatherer behavior :)

    This idea, in particular, has some very interesting implications.

    Assuming the device would let people tag each other without the tagged person having the ability to modify the tags assigned to them (I know exactly how it would work and I can produce it if enough people are interested and willing to support the idea) then social networking a la Web 2.0 will be history!

    Drop me a line at marc.fawzi/at/gmail.com if you wish to co-write it the post detailing how it would work and the scenarios it will give birth to.

    Else, I'll go ahead with my impulsive hunter gatherer production behavior and write about it for everyone to enjoy! I have until 10pm EST June 20th (today) to go into impulsive prduction mode or explode!

    We're hunter gatherers. We're impulsive producers. :)


  10. […] 1. The "Hunter Gatherer" post that started this discussion. […]

  11. […] Back to the “Hunter Gatherer” Society. Marc Fawzi believes that the internet is freeing the hunter gatherer inside us and I agree. Filed under: Design   |   […]

  12. […] Web 2.0: Back to the “Hunter Gatherer” Society is an interesting take on what the social side of the web is about. As he says, “Goog questions to chew on” […]

  13. […] As hypothesized in 1 and established in 2, a ‘crowd’ (not to be confused with a hierarchical organization) is not characterized by wisdom. […]

  14. […] Web 2.0 đang đưa con người trở lại thời kỳ “Hunter Gatherer” (thời kỳ sơ khai,khi con người sống thành bầy và săn bắn hái lượm để sống là chủ yếu) , bài này hay chứ , Marc đưa ra những điểm chung khá giống nhau của các người dùng trên Web 2.0 và con người vào thời kỳ sơ khai […]

  15. T.B.

    Thanks for your comment.

    I believe that you’re omitting the fact that there are always many components to any argument. The egalitarian component of the “why do people share freely” is just as important as the other components you mentioned, namely, attention seeking, self-promotion, credibility, etc.

    If you were to cut your own hair would you leave one hair sticking out on purpose? If not, then why would you single out the egalitarian component as invalid? I’m not sure why you would make that exception.

    The unstructured collectivist behavior (hunter gatherer like) is out moded by the structure of a democratic society. The problem is business organizations do not implement a democratic model that gives power to the customers and employees. They implement one that gives power to the shareholders, and specifically the largest shareholders.


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