In the same NY Times article i just wrote about, there’s a great section the “hard-wired upper limit on the number of people he or she can personally know at one time” and compares that number between humans and apes. It reads:
In 1998, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar argued that each human has a hard-wired upper limit on the number of people he or she can personally know at one time. Dunbar noticed that humans and apes both develop social bonds by engaging in some sort of grooming; apes do it by picking at and smoothing one another’s fur, and humans do it with conversation. He theorized that ape and human brains could manage only a finite number of grooming relationships: unless we spend enough time doing social grooming — chitchatting, trading gossip or, for apes, picking lice — we won’t really feel that we “know” someone well enough to call him a friend. Dunbar noticed that ape groups tended to top out at 55 members. Since human brains were proportionally bigger, Dunbar figured that our maximum number of social connections would be similarly larger: about 150 on average. Sure enough, psychological studies have confirmed that human groupings naturally tail off at around 150 people: the “Dunbar number,” as it is known.
The big question then is: Are people who use Facebook and Twitter increasing their Dunbar number, because they can so easily keep track of so many more people?
I find my social networks work against/for this number in 2 ways:
- For my good friends the relationships are strengthened through social networks and Twitter. I learn more about them and we’re able to interact more often
- There are weak friends that i normally would discard and never talk to again but instead they hang around on Facebook and Twitter and i gradually grow to learn more about them. Over time they turn into actual friends or i delete them and they turn into nothing.