Of Hyper-connectivity and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Question. Would not having access to the internet (dare I say, Wi-Fi)  ruin your day?

If you said yes, congratulations, the following image showing ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs version 2.0’ is no longer a joke to you. It’s eerily true!

In our hyperconnected daily lives, Wi-Fi is truly our basic need. And Wi-Fi Rage is a thing! The more we use our devices, the more we get attached to them, so when they don’t work, sometimes we tend to just go a little bit ‘crazy’.

Incidentally, I felt the ‘frustration’ as recently as yesterday. I was unable to FaceTime with my father as he recuperates in the hospital, because their Wi-Fi was down. I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of second-hand frustration wondering how he’d go through the day stuck in a room with no visitors and no internet. Apparently, not being able to be connected to emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix or even Spotify can create the same negative emotions as not having food when you are hungry. So, how did we reach here?!

Maslow’s Pyramid 2.0

Hyper-connected: when people are linked continuously through tech devices to other humans and to global intelligence. Simply put, when you are glued to your device. Millennials have been the first generation to grow up with social media and smartphones, and they continue to be the generation with the broadest usage of technology. 93% of millennials own smartphones compared with 90% of Gen Xers and 68% of baby boomers. Meanwhile teens and young adults have been at the forefront of the rapid adoption of the mobile internet and the always-on lifestyle it has made possible. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone and 45 percent say they’re online “almost constantly.” 

By now, I’m sure all of you are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, which is a theory that describes the pattern through which human motivations move. Now, on Maslow’s (actual) pyramid,  the way up to the top typically signifies a more complex need and the fulfilment of the previous stage’s need. Through the above 2.0 chart, it is interesting to see how we move from the fundamental stages towards the more complex ones in our increasingly hyperconnected digital world. Basic ‘physiological’ needs here are having a smartphone or tablet and having access to a stable internet connection. You move up to the safety stage, which is concerned with an individual’s sense of security, perhaps with access to Uber, Google Maps or the Password keychain. Next up, social needs – the feeling of belonging, love and community. This is reflected in our social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and also our swiping-addiction on Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and the like. The absence of this love results in loneliness, anxiety, and depression. These platforms have also affected our behavior in forging real-life connections. In fact, lots of people have increased social anxiety and awkwardness levels in real life because they’re so used to ‘hiding behind’ autocorrect, emojis, GIFs  and predictive text. 

The penultimate stage reflects esteem needs – self-respect as well as respect in others’ eyes. Social media plays a huge role in giving us that sense of self-esteem. According to a study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health on 16-24 year-olds, Instagram is the worst social network for self-esteem and YouTube had the most positive impact on self-esteem, followed by Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. About 20% of young people admit that they wake up in the middle of the night to check social media. This leaves them 300% more likely to feel tired the next day when compared to their peers who sleep through the night. Interestingly, digitization has made LinkedIn and YouTube feature in the final stage of self-actualization of hyper-connected souls. LinkedIn helps people project their personal brand in their professional life and YouTube enables people to showcase their passions via videos to millions. 

There’s no doubt about it that being this connected has a lot of advantages. However, in an increasingly virtual world (especially in context of an ongoing pandemic) people are beginning to lose touch with reality. Being hyperconnected all the time is actually a red flag for human relationships when the tools we have designed to make our lives easier may actually have made them far more difficult to navigate. If social media and emerging technology leads to this method of evaluating someone’s personal growth and development in life, that’s concerning to me. It takes me back to last week’s readings, through which we heard Tristan Harris – ‘the conscience of Silicon Valley’ – say, that big tech companies are simply competing for your attention and they prey on your psychology for their own profit. It seems technology is currently asking our brain what’s the best way to impulsively get you to do the next tiniest thing with your time (which is, watch that next recommended video on YouTube or TikTok and spend 30 minutes on the page before you know it!) instead of asking you what would be ‘time well spent’ for you. I’m still left wondering – what’s the human cost associated with this perceived self-esteem and sense of self-actualization (or shall I call it, self-alienation)? 

Here’s a fun afterthought: If our class were to create an updated pyramid in 2021 to describe our hierarchy of needs, what do you think would be at the top? I’m really curious to hear your thoughts!



  1. ritellryan · ·

    This is a really cool way to look at technology. I would really find it interesting to see how Gen Z fits in here. I was on vacation with some of my younger cousins and my grandparents a few years ago, and while looking to make reservations, my grandparents and I (since I totally don’t belong in the Millenial generation) would call to ask someone if seating was available, while my cousins preferred to use an app, which I think is pretty funny. I recently saw an article about a company willing to give away $24k to anyone who didn’t use the internet, cellphones, or TV and would be fascinated to know how many people try and fail, or don’t even try because they know they just “can’t” do it.

  2. Great Post! Professor Kane talks a lot about how we use technology is the more important lesson. We need to remind ourselves that the technology we wish to engage with should be a means for information/knowledge transfer, solving a problem, or entertainment with the latter being something we monitor closely so we do not value or have technology take us away from tangible social interaction. Apple’s ability to put time limits on apps is a good start but more and more work needs to be done on a personal level to be mindful of how we are spending time online and whether it is additive to our well-being or if it’s something that is a subtraction.

  3. sayoyamusa · ·

    Highly relevant post, Divya! I’ve read somewhere that if you just browse social media and have nothing to express yourself, you had better quit because that makes you feel only inferior to your “lively” friends. Now I understand this might be applied to esteem-needs like Instagram. In this way, I guess there should be a psychological approach for each stage. As your blog has inspired me to have a glance at this topic, I’ve found the word “NOMOPHOBIA” – No Mobile Phone PhoBIA, meaning people are afraid of detaching from mobile phones. They say the addiction is a kind of secret pandemic behind COVID-I9. I don’t think there is an established plan to cope with the internet addiction yet but really hope we can find a smart way. Until then, self-discipline is the medicine to this addiction in my perspective. Kids need to be educated to learn how to enjoy their digital world in an appropriate manner as well as adults.
    Here is the link for the article: https://kashmirpatriot.com/2021/03/20/smartphone-addiction-and-nomophobia-amid-covid-19-pandemic/

  4. abigailholler1 · ·

    Very intriguing, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is quite eye opening / stress inducing in some respects, thanks for sharing! I find your point on ‘human cost’ to be particularly scary, especially with respect to the negative toll social media can take on the mental stability of our society’s younger generations. Every Sunday, I get an alert on my phone which tells me my “screen time” report for the week, and I can attest that it does have real impact on my mood. In weeks with higher screen time, I’ve often felt a bit more stressed, using my phone as a distraction or release from weekly stressors. The weeks with lower screen time, I’m typically feeling like the week flew by effortlessly. Now this might not be a true cause/effect relationship of course, but I do believe that my screen time does roughly correlate to my mental stability. I always reminisce on how grateful I am that Facebook/Instagram didn’t exist when I was in grade school, and at the same time I worry about the long term effects of technology on younger generations.

  5. Scott Siegler · ·

    I really like this post! I’ve been fascinated by the psychological effects of technology, and more specifically, social media, and I think you make a lot of really good points. I see danger with the “culture of hyper-comparison” that social media can amplify. It has such powerful utility though, and can provide so much value to peoples’ lives if it is approached the right way. It’s just tough to use something in moderation when it is literally designed to be used in excess.

  6. therealerindee · ·

    Super interesting and also a personal gut check post for me. As we talked about in small groups, I am often very aware and very freaked out by my consistent desire/drive to check my phone. I agree with Abigail that my behavior changes week to week and something that I’ve very much noticed is that if I’m on vacation or with my friends/family, I never check my phone. I actually leave it in the room *gasp* and still survive. But I would say a basic physiological need for me is to have my phone with me. I typically take it with me between rooms in my apartment. From there I think highlights are belonging & love needs is pretty basic text and FaceTime. Esteem needs is definitely Insta. I am worried about future generations because I do think the pandemic has forced people into the welcoming arms of tech in ways we have not previously seen, so it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

  7. Jie Zhao · ·

    Really enjoyed this post, Divya! Such an interesting perspective applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to our social media habits. I personally have found it challenging to find that right balance between checking social media just enough to see what are the trending topics/current events/what my friends are up to, without using it to a point I feel missing out and mentally drained. I didn’t get a smartphone until I was ~middle school, and I’m so happy I didn’t! I can’t imagine the negative mental and self-esteem impacts it has on children these days, and if those will ever go away!

  8. Nice post. One question is whether these are truly needs, or wants that we have been conditioned into thinking they are needs. Of course, I’ve also found that 5G has drastically reduced my Wifi anxiety. With the ability to turn my phone into a broadband hotspot, I automatically have access when wifi fails.

  9. williammooremba · ·

    Very interesting post. One thing I have found is that personal Wi – Fi and/or phone issues can be basically emergency issues. I have had a couple of phones die over the past decade or so and it has gotten to the point that I feel like I need a resolution within 24 hours or less if possible. In a lot of cases, it is less about I need to access social media so much as I need those tools to go to class, pay bills or access work accounts among other things. For instance, my current rent payment workflow needs both my Wi-Fi and phone to be in good working order for security reasons. I cannot function with a long-term internet outage at this point, which is a sobering thought.

  10. Great post Divya, this is such a relevant topic. I definitely am in the yes camp for your opening question as much as I wish that wasn’t the case. Tristin Harris elaborated on this in the film The Social Dilemma and it is really scary to me how much the big tech companies “creep” on people to get them to stay online. I imagine it is going to have pretty damaging affects on people throughout society as technology progresses. I know a three year old who knows how to unlock an iPad and select what show they want to watch, I can only imagine how “connected” this generation will be from such a young age.

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