Robin Dunbar an evolutionary anthropologist, and the director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, has put forth a theory that humans can only maintain meaningful relationships with a finite number of people. That number is cited to be 150. In a March 2010 interview published at www.guardian.co.uk, the scientist talks about this idea and how it relates to social networking.
“Most species of birds and animals aren’t as intensely social [as human]. Sociality for most species hovers around pair-bonds, that’s as complicated as it gets. The species with big brains are the ones who mate monogamously… The lesson is that there is something computationally very demanding about maintaining close relationships over a very long period of time – as we all know!”
He goes on to talk about how our society has changed. There are more people than any time in human history and we now live closer together. And though there are more ways for us to connect through social media, we are unable to truly connect beyond about 150 people.
“Can we manage to have meaningful relationships with more than just the old numbers? Yes, I can find out what you had for breakfast from your tweet, but can I really get to know you better? These digital developments help us keep in touch, when in the past a relationship might just have died; but in the end, we actually have to get together to make a relationship work.
In the end, we rely heavily on touch and we still haven’t figured out how to do virtual touch. Maybe once we can do that we will have cracked a big nut.
Words are slippery, a touch is worth a 1,000 words any day.”
How many people do you connect with on your Facebook page? Do you have a company Facebook page as well? How about Linkedin where the system tells you how many connections you have through your connections. How many user groups do you participate in. And how many of those people would you recognize if you sat next to them in a busy airline terminal?
The idea of connections hit me personally the other day. I received a Facebook friend request from one of the magazine editors I work with. I like and respect this editor quite a bit and he and I have had a great working relationship for over 15 years. When his request came in I felt moment of “oh crap what am I supposed to do?” I have made a personal decision that my Facebook page will be reserved for people who care about my daughters’ dance recitals and are interested in my new car search. I bet you’re bored just reading that. See, that’s my point. Unless you truly care and have a personal – not personal professional relationship with me, I’m not comfortable “friending” you. To confuse my social networking choices even more I’ve also been getting a lot of LinkedIn request lately from people I don’t know. As a matter of course, I don’t accept connections from people I have never conversed with in person or through some correspondence.
I feel that people who link and accept friend requests without thinking are losing the point about networking – building relationships. This brings me to Dunbar’s number. Yes, I can stand to expand my personal and personal professional network. I seek to do it all the time. I have noticed throughout the years that when I do truly to connect to new people, it is a lasting connection that is either good for my growing business or for my need to find new people to laugh and have a good time with. I’m nowhere near 150 true personal connections. It’s a good number to strive for.
Lest you think I’m anti social that’s not true. Come find me and connect with me on LinkedIn, read my blog, or here’s a new one, call me directly.