Wearables and Us versus Them thinking

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2017


Us versus Them thinking is powerful instinctive thinking among humans, and it influences how our communities develop in many areas. Things such as neighborhood composition, land use, employment, racism, religion and politics are all heavily influenced by this instinct.

There is a lot of both love and fear mixed into the Us versus Them feelings. Patriotism is a love feeling. Worrying about strangers stealing women and chickens is a fear feeling. Politics goes both ways -- Us versus Them emotions swirling is why many strange laws get proposed, and some pass. Sports events are about loving one team, while being a hooligan is about hating another. Becoming an employee is much like a romance -- will this person become one of Us, a good one of Us? When things go wrong the common emotion is Blame Them. And there are all the emotions swirling around religion.

If wearables can be used to influence how this Us versus Them instinct manifests itself then humanity has gained a powerful tool in the battle against material waste and making silly, expensive choices in the social sphere.

Instinct origin

When mankind lives in Stone Age conditions he lives as small collection of people, a proto-village. The group typically consists of one-to-a-few extended families. These people live and work together, and when moving time comes they move together -- Stone Age living is a semi-nomadic lifestyle.

This means that these village people are treated differently than the other collections of people that are living around them in the region. These people are family and those other people are strangers. Mankind has been living this Stone Age lifestyle for tens of thousand of generations, basically from the beginning of mankind until the invention of the Agricultural Age which began in a handful of river deltas about five thousand years ago, an eye blink in the evolutionary timeframe. In Agricultural Age lifestyles a larger collection of people gather together and living conditions become very different. This means that evolution has had plenty of time to hardwire human thinking to support Us versus Them thinking, and not much time to lose it in those situations where it is no longer appropriate.

In sum, it is a well established instinct. And it is around whether or not it makes sense for the living style a person is enjoying.

Trusting and betraying

The heart of this instinct is deciding who to trust and who to betray. If the person is family, you trust them, if the person is a stranger it is OK to betray them -- betraying doesn't create much guilt feeling, and it can create great boasting stories. As a person one meets moves from feeling like a stranger to feeling like family then betrayal becomes less comfortable. This is what initiation rites and getting to know someone over a meal are all about. They are moving the person from stranger to family in the eyes of the Us versus Them instinct.

Conversely, social shaming and bad gossip are about moving the target person out of the family side of the instinct and into the stranger side, so that betrayal becomes comfortable.

What wearables can do

Since Us versus Them is instinctive thinking, emotional thinking, it may be that wearables can be designed to influence it. As an example, if a person starts thinking about betraying someone else -- say, robbing a store -- the wearable can stimulate powerful guilt thinking and the person doesn't think it is such a good plan anymore.

Business transactions bring up a lot of Us versus Them thinking. Here is a classic situation: A person at a negotiating table is thinking, "Do I think this deal is fair? If I don't, and I think I'm getting too much, do I confess and make changes to make the deal more fair? Or do I just take all I can get and laugh all the way to the bank?" Dealing with the emotions of these kinds of situations is what makes deal-making a distinctive form of thinking that some people are much more comfortable with than others. And this kind of situation is muddy enough at the emotional level that it is unclear what a wearable would add to this kind of deal making process.

Which brings up the next point.

It won't be easy

Compared to romantic love or fear of flying Us versus Them thinking is going to be much harder to detect, and the object of the thoughts is going to be much harder to determine. Controlling Us versus Them is going to be a late stage development in the wearables-controlling-emotions spectrum.

But it will be an important one because cooperation with strangers is so widespread and so important in societies based on advanced technologies.


Us versus Them thinking is a powerful instinct. It is one that is at the root of deciding whether to trust or betray when dealing with another person or organization. It is an instinct that is well-suited for Stone Age lifestyles, but doesn't work nearly as well in more technologically advanced lifestyles. In these lifestyles cooperation with wider and wider groups becomes more advantageous and betrayal become more damaging.

Where wearables can help in reducing damaging betrayals they are being of big help in the communities of the 2050's.



--The End--