What's your Dunbar number?
I imagine if I work hard enough, things would last forever – mainly friendships. Facebook encourages this false sense of permanence.
Even when a conversation with an old friend can't move past small talk, you are still free to know intimate details about their life by simply clicking on their Facebook profile. Nowadays, "friend" has almost no meaning.
I don't know how many "friends" I have but I certainly don't have several hundred.
In fact, in 1992, a British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, discovered that the human brain is only capable of maintaining 150 stable relationships. Since then, his finding has been referred to as Dunbar's number.
Now with Facebook, scientists have reviewed Dunbar's number and found that despite our large friends lists online, Dunbar was right, we are only capable of maintaining an inner circle relationship with around 100 to 200 people.
Occasionally, I feel the need to purge my friends-list. Several dozen are vague acquaintances that I met one time or had a class with one semester, who I added in some strange need to solidify the meeting; like the LinkedIn connection without business cards.
"The illusion is that Facebook tricks us into thinking that someone is still a real "friend" just because they are accessible through the computer screen."
Few things are more satisfying than going through this list of people, whose relationship with me has come to a confused cry of "Who the heck is that?" when a post of theirs appears on my newsfeed.
It feels good to get rid of those people because it reminds me that some other connections are worth keeping. If some people are easy to delete off a list, they hold no emotional weight and don't deserve the title of "friend."
There are also friendships that are harder to take off the list. Sure, before the Internet, I probably would have just stopped speaking to them but social media is a bittersweet reminder of the friendship we once had and wish we still had.
Although the person I was once a friend with is no longer calling or texting like they used to, there is still a profile out there that bears the same name. Facebook encourages you to hold on to these connections, and somehow making the move to get rid of someone whom you were really close to is just too hard to do.
It's not just the deletion of social media fluff of someone that never had bearing on my life and never will; it's truly burning a bridge. To stop talking to this person altogether, to admit that even seeing their online presence is an odd combination of uncomfortable and unpleasant, is the stuff of real break-ups. So I'm tempted to keep them around because an awkward non-friendship is better than cutting them out altogether. That would be a real death to the friendship, so I'd rather keep it on life support.
I often think about quitting Facebook and social media altogether, and although I could technically shut the thing down – the Earth won't fall off its axis and collide with the sun if I do.
I lived without status updates five years ago, and although living without them now probably wouldn't make much of a difference for my daily life, except then I remember those family and friends that encompass my Dunbar number.
The illusion is that Facebook tricks us into thinking that someone is still a real "friend" just because they are accessible through the computer screen.
So next time you sign online, think of your Dunbar number. Are you really capable of maintaining 1,367 friendships?
- By Jean Symborski