Gossip, grooming, and your Dunbar number – David Dobbs waxes lyrical in Wired this week on the subject of the Dunbar number, that fairly well-known social science icon that says that our brains are powerful enough to handle only 150 friends (+/-50 or so). It's a bit of a truism, I think.
Some people probably cannot handle any friends at all, others cope with networks much bigger. It's all about separation, connection, gossip and grooming. Anyway, in today's world, there's not need to limit your inner circle to a mere 150 friends. With online tools it's not impossible to go way beyond Dunbar and still call those contacts "friends" (of a sort). Simply use your computer as an extension of your brain and Facebook or other social media apps as tools to help you manage all the people you know. Fit them into specific cliques of 150-250 and you'll be fine. There are enough triggers in each application you might use to allow you to manage and engage and gossip with far more people than you, or Dunbar, might imagine.
Dunbar also talks about this in terms of having more than one circle so that you might sustain 750. I suspect the numbers are all averages, just like the six-degrees thing. As with all (social) science there are outliers on both sides of any distribution curve and error bars to consider. It would seem ludicrous to imagine one could have 150 “close” friends, but what about 15, is that reasonable, how would you keep them close? How does one define close, in the first instance and what if a loose connection is strong some of the time? There are so many factors. I would like to see him lecture though, put some of these Qs forward, I’m sure he’d have answers.