Dunbar's number is 150.
And he's not compromising, no matter how much you whine about it.
Dunbar postulated that the typical human being can only have 150 friends. One hundred fifty people in the tribe. After that, we just aren't cognitively organized to handle and track new people easily. That's why, without external forces, human tribes tend to split in two after they reach this size. It's why WL Gore limits the size of their offices to 150 (when they grow, they build a whole new building).
Facebook and Twitter and blogs fly in the face of Dunbar's number. They put hundreds or thousands of friendlies in front of us, people we would have lost touch with (why? because of Dunbar!) except that they keep digitally reappearing.
Reunions are a great example of Dunbar's number at work. You might like a dozen people you meet at that reunion, but you can't keep up, because you're full.
Some people online are trying to flaunt Dunbar's number, to become connected and actual friends with tens of thousands of people at once. And guess what? It doesn't scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can't effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people. You get the politician's glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity's empty stare. And then the nature of the relationship is changed.
I can tell when this happens. I'm guessing you can too.
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So: assuming Dunbar is right, what are people doing when they have so many online friends?
Well it so happens that my wife and I were talking about this earlier this morning, and it reminds her of high school.
I see it as people starring in their own movies and inviting people to come and play bit parts in them.
I don't want to slam all the relationships that people have on social media, but I am guessing that for some - the bit players are there to swell the numbers and not for their intrinsic worth.
It's like the poor quality film where you see a person introduced only for the sake of being the victim in the next scene when the bad guy/monster/catastrophe gets him or her.
And the worst thing about people starring in their own movies with this kind of attitude is that it does not encourage community in the sense of care-in-the-community.
Apart from that - I don't care that people want to star in their own movies - let them have fun. It is their entitlement.