Dunbar's Friends

Thursday, June 5, 2008 Thursday, June 05, 2008

I examined an interesting social theory the other day: Dunbar's Number. The short explanation is that it's 150. Oh, you want more?

The long explanation is that it is:

a theorized cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships

What the heck does that mean? Quite simply, your brain can't keep track of more than 150 individuals in any effective way. It's not a matter of practice or experience. It's biology and neural logistics! Multiple evidence has arisen to confirm this theory, including the typical sizes of villages, military units, etc.

The theory goes on to suggest that you cannot maintain 150 relationships unless you spend almost half your available time engaging with them. In certain social situations, this can be accomplished and is sometimes necessary (e.g. military), but in common experience, we simply don't have the time to perform the necessary engagement to maintain all of the relationships. In other words, practical experience indicates that 150 is not achievable. I've read that a more pragmatic number is around 75 individuals for casual environments like Second Life.

So what does this have to do with the Second Life experience?

The other day I was searching for one of my friends and began scrolling down my Friend List. And it was a very, very long scroll. My gosh, how many friends do I have, anyway? A quick count revealed approximately 134 avatars on my list. Wait a minute! That's way over the practical Dunbar limit!

No wonder I can't keep track of them all. There are some on my list for whom, unfortunately, I no longer recall the circumstances of our relationship. Should I clean up my friends list to trim it down below my biological comprehension limit? Perhaps, but I think I'd rather keep them there just in case, and know that I can't know them. Perhaps someday they could be the next Anshe, M, Crap Mariner or even a Torley! Better keep them on the list ...

How big is your friends list? Do trim or clean it periodically? How far over or under Dunbar's number are you? Drop a comment with your view!


Peter Stindberg said...

Well over 200. However I prefer to call it "contact list". The number of people I would consider friends is maybe 15. But I have acquaintances on it, as well es clients and my freelancers.

I wish LL would finally give us folders for the contact list - that would make things easier.

Chestnut Rau said...

Very very interesting post. I agree with Peter that it would be great to have folders for contacts. Although, truth be told I would probably be no more successful at organizing contact information than I am at organizing the rest of my inventory.

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