It sounds impossible but if you social network, it is also likely true. You have too many friends.
Most of us do, at least according to a theory put forth by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Using data models obtained from studying other primates, Dunbar predicted that most people can maintain a stable social relationship with only 100-230 other people. Do a quick check to see how this compares to your Facebook friend list or your Twitter followers/following count.
This number is commonly rounded to one hundred fifty for easier comparison.
Search the Internet for more information on Dunbar’s work. He uses an interesting mix of historical and theoretical data to explain his thesis. It really made me think for a minute about how this number translates to online relationships.
First off, it has already been observed through group studies that online interaction is not a substitute for personal interaction. Talking to someone face to face, in the same room, is a much broader experience in a physiological sense. Your body actually produces more hormones and other chemicals when you interact with another live human.
I imagine this would account for some of the discrepancies I see when I look at my online friends and the folks I actually talk to now and then ....
Rick Lax, a writer at www.wired.com, took an awesome look at his own online friends to see how his 2,000 friend relationships held up in the real world. He decided to write each friend a personal letter.
The results were something to read. Rick encountered disappointment, shock (one “friend” had passed away six months ago), ignorant replies (“who are you?”) and finally failure. Once the Facebook timeline feature kicked in on Rick’s profile, he can’t figure out how to view his friends alphabetically anymore. Sorry, Rick. It’s hard to see the value in some online relationships.
Is it just a number or does each and every one of your online friends mean something special to you, in real life? Perhaps more importantly, do you mean anything to them? As Rick discovered, sometimes people you think of as friends have different ideas. Like the two middle school friends who got married, to each other, and didn’t invite Rick to the wedding.
Don’t feel too bad Rick. How long ago did they get married. How did you miss that anyway?
I’m really interested to hear how others see their online relationships versus those in real life (IRL). Do you measure up to Dunbar’s number or do you disprove the theory perhaps, like poor Rick. It’s worth the time to do at least a quick review of your online friends.
Ask yourself the hard questions like, when did we last speak, and have I ever met this person or talked to them outside of instant messaging (IM)?
Oh and by the way, I couldn’t locate Robin Dunbar’s real Facebook account, so I can’t be sure that Robin is following the rules. The Robin Dunbar public figure fan page on Facebook certainly ignores them.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.