Friday, February 24, 2012

Ever Hear of Dunbar's Law?

So, as you probably know, I have recently started a social polling app and website, In fact, the poll you see above is from the site. One of our brand new capabilities is being able to take those polls (we call them "wayins") and embed them anywhere.

Anyway, this has had me thinking a lot more of late about social media and its impact. While researching a talk I gave at Yale this week, I stumbled on an academic theory known as "Dunbar's Law," which states that the human animal is capable of sustaining only about 150 personal relationships. I'm not talking about people you say hi to at the post office, I mean actively maintained relationships.

Think about that. There are seven billion people in the world and you only get to have 150 relationships. One in every 46 million people. Those are special spots. You should allocate them carefully!

I can see being at a party and meeting someone fun or interesting but having to say, "You know, you seem really nice, but right now I'm at my cognitive friend limit. Maybe if you send me your resume, we can talk."

Of course, the 150 aren't static. In particular, as we transition through life's stages, some friends fade away and others appear. Think about the post-college years. Gotta leave some friends behind to make room for all the new ones.

Not anymore. I know there's lots of ways to waste time on things like Facebook, but social media allow us to violate Dunbar’s Law. No one ever has to lose track of anyone ever again. This is a very big deal, because you never know who in your life will change your life.

Think it’s one of your best friends? Think again. Research shows that when people hunt for new jobs, more often than not, they find one through a loose acquaintance, not from someone in their inner circle. Friend #137, not friend #2.

So my advice is not just to use social networks, but be social. Go to parties, make new friends. Keep in touch with those that you have. Serendipity, it turns out, is really just making probability work in your favor.

No comments:

Post a Comment