I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about the implications that Dunbar’s Number has on social media (and our ever-more-connected ways of living), and trying to divine some patterns that we might see emerging in the future.
If the human mind is only capable of maintaining somewhere in the rage of 150 meaningful connections with other people, (that’s Robin Dunbar’s hypothesis, greatly simplified), then what does that mean for people with hundreds – or thousands – of “friends”?
Looking at my Facebook profile alone, I have over 500 people in my network. Since I only befriend people I actually know in person, this means that every one of those people can identify me in a crowd, and vice versa.
However, I have only seen ONE of my old Budapest friends since I moved away from there six years ago. Some of these people I was so close to then have children in school now who I have never met.
Are they still “friends”?
Which leads me to some reading I have been doing recently on tribes, neo-tribalism, and what makes a tribe (or community) work.
One plan in Germany is being very mechanistic about it. They interview potential tribe members and invite them into the group if they pass the “test”.
Friends of mine have four homes on a single piece of property. The people living there have a social contract with each other, and it has sustained for more than 7 years now, and more than one person leaving.
And, every year, at Burning Man, a group of people from widely divergent geographical regions come together as a family called “Happy Camp” that I am proud to be a part of.
But who is a friend? Who is family? What constitutes a tribe? Is neo-tribalism just a hippie throwback to a poorly-defined “better” past? Or is it one possible answer to the disconnected nature of communities in society today?
The gears in the back of my head are turning and churning on these thoughts, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well…