Cave Man Principle

Cave Man Principle by Michio Kaku

Why did these predictions fail to materialize?[…new media technologies wiping out current media technologies…] I conjecture that people largely rejected these advances because of what I call the Cave Man (or Cave Woman) Principle. Genetic and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans, who looked just like us, emerged from Africa more than 100,000 years ago, but we see no evidence that our brains and personalities have changed much since then. If you took someone from that period, he would be anatomically identical to us: if you gave him a bath and a shave, put him in a three–piece suit, and then placed him on Wall Street, he would be physically indistinguishable from everyone else. So our wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have probably not changed much in 100,000 years. We probably still think like our caveman ancestors.

The point is: whenever there is a conflict between modern technology and the desires of our primitive ancestors, these primitive desires win each time. That’s the Cave Man Principle. For example, the caveman always demanded “proof of the kill.” It was never enough to boast about the big one that got away. Having the fresh animal in our hands was always preferable to tales of the one that got away. Similarly, we want hard copy whenever we deal with files. We instinctively don’t trust the electrons floating in our computer screen, so we print our e–mails and reports, even when it’s not necessary. That’s why the paperless office never came to be.

Likewise, our ancestors always liked face–to–face encounters. This helped us to bond with others and to read their hidden emotions. This is why the peopleless city never came to pass. For example, a boss might want to carefully size up his employees. It’s difficult to do this online, but face–to–face a boss can read body language to gain valuable unconscious information. By watching people up close, we feel a common bond and can also read their subtle body language to find out what thoughts are racing through their heads. This is because our apelike ancestors, many thousands of years before they developed speech, used body language almost exclusively to convey their thoughts and emotions.

This is the reason cybertourism never got off the ground. It’s one thing to see a picture of the Taj Mahal, but it’s another thing to have the bragging rights of actually seeing it in person. Similarly, listening to a CD of your favorite musician is not the same as feeling the sudden rush when actually seeing this musician in a live concert, surrounded by all the fanfare, hoopla, and noise. This means that even though we will be able to download realistic images of our favorite drama or celebrity, there is nothing like actually seeing the drama on stage or seeing the actor perform in person. Fans go to great lengths to get autographed pictures and concert tickets of their favorite celebrity, although they can download a picture from the Internet for free.

This explains why the prediction that the Internet would wipe out TV and radio never came to pass. When the movies and radio first came in, people bewailed the death of live theater. When TV came in, people predicted the demise of the movies and radio. We are living now with a mix of all these media. The lesson is that one medium never annihilates a previous one but coexists with it. It is the mix and relationship among these media that constantly change. Anyone who can accurately predict the mix of these media in the future could become very wealthy.

The reason for this is that our ancient ancestors always wanted to see something for themselves and not rely on hearsay. It was crucial for our survival in the forest to rely on actual physical evidence rather than rumors. Even a century from now, we will still have live theater and still chase celebrities, an ancient heritage of our distant past.

In addition, we are descended from predators who hunted. Hence, we love to watch others and even sit for hours in front of a TV, endlessly watching the antics of our fellow humans, but we instantly get nervous when we feel others watching us. In fact, scientists have calculated that we get nervous if we are stared at by a stranger for about four seconds. After about ten seconds, we even get irate and hostile at being stared at. This is the reason why the original picture phone was such a flop. Also, who wants to have to comb one’s hair before going online? (Today, after decades of slow, painful improvement, video conferencing is finally catching on.)

And today, it is possible to take courses online. But universities are bulging with students. The one–to–one encounter with professors, who can give individual attention and answer personal questions, is still preferable to online courses. And a university degree still carries more weight than an online diploma when applying for a job.

So there is a continual competition between High Tech and High Touch, that is, sitting in a chair watching TV versus reaching out and touching things around us. In this competition, we will want both. That is why we still have live theater, rock concerts, paper, and tourism in the age of cyberspace and virtual reality. But if we are offered a free picture of our favorite celebrity musician or actual tickets to his concert, we will take the tickets, hands down.

So that is the Cave Man Principle: we prefer to have both, but if given a choice we will chose High Touch, like our cavemen ancestors.

But there is also a corollary to this principle. When scientists first created the Internet back in the 1960s, it was widely believed that it would evolve into a forum for education, science, and progress. Instead, many were horrified that it soon degenerated into the no–holds–barred Wild West that it is today. Actually, this is to be expected. The corollary to the Cave Man Principle is that if you want to predict the social interactions of humans in the future, simply imagine our social interactions 100,000 years ago and multiply by a billion. This means that there will be a premium placed on gossip, social networking, and entertainment. Rumors were essential in a tribe to rapidly communicate information, especially about the leaders and role models. Those who were out of the loop often did not survive to pass on their genes. Today, we can see this played out in grocery checkout stands, which have wall–to–wall celebrity gossip magazines, and in the rise of a celebrity–driven culture. The only difference today is that the magnitude of this tribal gossip has been multiplied enormously by mass media and can now circle the earth many times over within a fraction of a second.

The sudden proliferation of social networking Web sites, which turned young, baby–faced entrepreneurs into billionaires almost overnight, caught many analysts off guard, but it is also an example of this principle. In our evolutionary history, those who maintained large social networks could rely on them for resources, advice, and help that were vital for -survival.

And last, entertainment will continue to grow explosively. We sometimes don’t like to admit it, but a dominant part of our culture is based on entertainment. After the hunt, our ancestors relaxed and entertained themselves. This was important not only for bonding but also for establishing one’s position within the tribe. It is no accident that dancing and singing, which are essential parts of entertainment, are also vital in the animal kingdom to demonstrate fitness to the opposite sex. When male birds sing beautiful, complex melodies or engage in bizarre mating rituals, it is mainly to show the opposite sex that they are healthy, physically fit, free of parasites, and have genes worthy enough to be passed down.

And the creation of art was not only for enjoyment but also played an important part in the evolution of our brain, which handles most information symbolically.

So unless we genetically change our basic personality, we can expect that the power of entertainment, tabloid gossip, and social networking will increase, not decrease, in the future.