No More Than 150

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If you look seriously at your social network pages, like twitter, facebook etc, you might have hundreds of friends, but in reality, you are not built to interact with such numbers. At the start of the 90s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar became interested in looking at different primates and how they socialized, soon finding an odd statistic.

We humans are also Primates, albeit with larger brains, but like other primate species, we actually are inclined to limit the number of individuals in our social groups, though the bigger brain gives us leeway in that can more friends, the reasoning being that the friend number a primate is able to keep track of is limited by the size of the brain according to Dunbar

Going further with this idea, Dunbar plotted number of contacts against volume of brain, making group comparisons, working out in the process that the average human can cope with a circle of friends numbering 150, various studies since showing that, when it comes to keeping regular contact, this is a pretty accurate estimate, though obviously individuals vary.  

Furthermore, it would seem that has historically been the case, back as far as the Neoliythic age, when the average village size was around this number, which is the used often in military forces as the optimum number of men in a unit, while most contact bookds will reveal around that number of entries

Over the past ten years, facebook, twitter and other examples of social networking technology have profoundly influenced the way  in which people connect with one another, so that any tweeter can be following, and followed by thousands of others, all referred to as friends but hardly that in reality.

You would imagine that, in these circumstances, the figure produced by Dunbar might be out of date, but they are not at all. A team of researchers led by Bruno Goncalves, at Indiana University, studied the links networks of 3 million Twitter users over a 4-years period, covering nearly 400million separate messages, or tweets.

This team, maintaining that proper friendship involved real conversation for there to be a strong link between the parties involved, which must happen regularly, but in fact, tweeters always find that they soon reach saturation point with ‘friends’ on twitter, and less significant contacts get less and less contact, as those tweeters feel a real affinity with take over.

And the number of contacts with whom the tweeters will be in constant contact is always between one and two hundred, exactly as Dunbar said, proving unequivocally that no human can overcome the physical limitations placed upon them by the volume of their brains. The information overload beyond i5o pals is such that they simply get blocked out, so do not fret if you cannot kep up with all your contacts. It is a physical impossibility, after all, and that’s a fact.


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