Tuesday, February 10, 2015

You really don’t have 832 Facebook friends

In fact, nobody really has 832 Facebook friends.

More or less, you might have as many as 150 real friends, in any meaningful sense of the word “friend.”

One researcher puts it this way: a friend is someone “…you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into (her) in a bar.”(1)

Put it another way: a friend is someone you’d miss talking to, at least, if he went out of your life.

Put it another way: having someone’s cell number in your phone doesn’t make her your friend, a friend is someone who is socially and emotionally bonded with you in some memorable way.

Dr. Robin Dunbar has fascinating things to say about human relationships and language in his 1996 book, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language.

Here’s one that resonates for me:
“The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us.”(2)

Dunbar gives many examples of familial, social and organizational groupings in human culture (and among chimpanzees, our closet primate relatives) that maintain an optimal size of roughly 150 individuals.

Here’s one: farming villages in Indonesia, the Philippines and South America typically have about 150 residents.

Here’s another:
Bill Gore, founder of the company that produces Gore-Tex outdoor gear, established a company with limited managerial hierarchy and minimal management ranks and titles. He wanted folks to be able to talk to each other. “In essence, he organized the company as though it were a bunch of small task forces. To promote this idea, he limited the size of teams — keeping even the manufacturing facilities to 150 to 200 people at most. That's small enough so that people can get to know one another and what everyone is working on, and who has the skills and knowledge they might tap to get something accomplished…”(3)

Think about it: in what meaningful way can the 212,000 employees of General Motors actually collaborate with each other to make the company successful?

How would you feel if you had 212,000 Facebook friends?

Think about how long it would take you to have a “real” conversation with 150 different people.

Roughly speaking, nobody has more than about 150 real friends on Facebook.

(1) Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1997), 77.
(2) Dunbar, Grooming, 77.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

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