How many friends do I have?
The question caused me to stop and think following a recent Facebook comment from Col Hawksworth as the answer appears to be 150!
150? Really, so many?
Well so Robin Dunbar has been suggesting since 1992. It’s a flexible number where Dunbar has set the more likely norm at 148, having extrapolated research into primates onto humans. Dunbar argued that …
…150 would be the mean group size only for communities with a very high incentive to remain together. For a group of this size to remain cohesive, Dunbar speculated that as much as 42% of the group’s time would have to be devoted to social grooming. From: http://bit.ly/vVKEqe
MMmmm. Now that I’ve read some of Dunbar’s work, maybe I do have 150 friends, especially online and in my wider field of work. Dunbar insists that his theories hold good even with burgeoning social networks like Facebook and Twitter – because 150 is the maximum number we can have some personal history with:
…there is a general relationship between the size of the brain and the size of the social group. We fit in a pattern. There are social circles beyond it and layers within – but there is a natural grouping of 150.
This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there’s some personal history, not just names and faces. From: http://bit.ly/rrbyO4
To celebrate my birthday earlier this month, I invited some friends around to my home for pie and peas and as much to drink as they liked. I had to limit the numbers because the house would have been too full, but over twenty people attended and I could easily have invited another twenty – if there had been room. So that’s a third of all the people Dunbar suggests I could happily call friends. Around another thirty or so sent their best wishes via Facebook or Twitter and many others sent cards and/or texts. So I can go with the 150 (ish) number, now I’ve thought about it.
But the key is ‘personal history’. Only those with whom we have had personal history can be called friends. One friend (a true friend, even by his own statement) once said to me “you can never have more than a couple of friends Sugg! Everyone else is an acquaintance” and I ‘sort of’ went with that. His idea of a friend was someone who would drop everything to help if needed, someone you could/would confide in and someone you could rely on totally. I am lucky enough to have several friends like that and most of them came to my birthday party.
On the wider periphery of friendship, social network friendship especially, we have similar interactions don’t we?
When someone needs the answer to a question, or help with a cause we try to help in some way and if we can’t we re-tweet or ask other friends if they can help. Don’t we? Each of those social interactions deepens the trust and adds to the personal history Dunbar refers to.
Online, I have a number of ‘friends’ I’ve never met and in those cases, ‘friend’ is perhaps an ill chosen term – ‘acquaintance’ might be better. Nevertheless, some of those non-met friends have helped me online and I have helped them (not necessarily the same person tit-for-tat you understand) and they thus begin to form the outer edges of Dunbar’s Number.