How did I miss this story in The New Scientist, back in April 2008? This researcher posits that we can only maintain 150 relationships.
Frankly, I think that number may be a bit high. Or maybe I’m distinguishing “friendships” from “relationships.”
At any rate, I am now seeking gently to decline people who want to “friend” me on Facebook, if I don’t actually know them.
Here’s the story from The New Scientist:
That makes some sense to me.
Is 150 friends the human limit?
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar calculated in 1992 that the human brain's size should lead to our social groups naturally averaging at around 150. What does that mean in an era of online social networking, ponders one blogger.
One good point he makes is that we have always been capable of remembering many more contacts than that.
The tendency to converge on the 150 number is really a product of our not being able to maintain active relationships with more people than that, rather than a limit to our mental database of all possible contacts.
So do social networking sites and technologies that make it easier to communicate allow us to brush Dunbar's number aside?
According to the founder of Facebook, in this video, his site's users average number of friends is "like around 125 or 130 or so." He says the closeness of that figure and Dunbar's number is evidence Facebook friends are as valid as real-life ones. But you might expect him to say that.
As for the blogger I linked to above, he concludes that the technological future of socialising will in the end only change what we do as far as "Human Hardware" allows.
That seems sensible. Yet given the history of social diversity and upheaval in humanity's short history, those limits are not likely to be very tight.