... and I don't mean by buying a spray.
People engage in social networks for the same reasons they interact with others in real life, according to a paper by Communispace, a company that builds and manages communities for businesses.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow had a theory of the hierarchy of needs: The needs range from food and shelter up to self-actualization, and he believed we could only work on fulfilling the higher ones after the more basic needs were met.
Communispace staffers Julie Wittes Schlack, Michael Jennings and Manila Austin write that people can use social networking (the more trendy term for what we used to call online community) to meet their needs for belonging, self-esteem and such:
Communispace’s hypothesis: people are looking to fulfill six essential social needs online, and the organizations that understand this and build the right kind of social networking opportunity are more likely to create deeper emotional bonds than usually exist between companies and customers.
I think they're right. I would just add that people may also release oxytocin in these virtual interactions, just as they do IRL. Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate University has shown that inhaling oxytocin affects how we behave online, which indicate to me that computer-mediated interactions feel real to us -- and therefore affect us just like face-to-face encounters do.
You can download the complete paper with registration.