Is “engagement” the newest new thing? That’s what I found myself wondering as I tried to navigate the teeming Ad:Tech conference in San Francisco in late April.

The crowds were so thick and the atmosphere so exuberant that it was hard to formulate a clear thought, let alone find a clear path from one part of the site to another. Amidst the hullabaloo, though, I did have the sense that industry minds are clustering around the concept of “engagement.” At the show, Mary Meeker spoke about engagement and suggested a new, simplified hierarchy of human needs, riffing on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s proposition that, aside from physiological requirements, humans need safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

In Meeker’s new model, modern man requires food, water, shelter… and internet/mobile access.

Tongue in cheek, yes, but the idea was not meant entirely in fun. Our engagement with the online world is still only just beginning, she argued, citing everything from the rapid improvements in efficiency of online markets to an email sent to her from an internet-connected passenger on a commercial flight, 36,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean.

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