Monday, March 25, 2013

The Origins of Applause

We rarely give it a second thought, but applause — clapping your hands to signify approval — is ancient, nearly universal and may actually be hardwired into human beings.  As evidenced in hundreds of YouTube videos, even babies do it!

According to “A Brief History of Applause, the Big Data of the Ancient World,” a fascinating article recently in The Atlantic, clapping was even memorialized in the Bible.  Psalm 47 includes the passage:  “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.”

As theater and politics merged — particularly during the rise of the Roman Empire — applause became a way for leaders to assess the mood of their constituencies.   "You can almost think of this as an ancient poll," says University of Wisconsin Professor Greg Aldrete.  “This is how you gauge the people.  This is how you poll their feelings."

Applause was further formalized in the theater.  According to Desmond Morris, "When we applaud a performer, we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance."

Many years later, and half a world away, we still “give a hand” to show our approval and build connections with the people whose work we admire.  That applies every bit as much in the digital landscape as it does in the “real world” … every time we upvote, retweet, link and share content with the people in our networks and our lives.

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