Thursday 10 October 2019

circle of friends

First proposed in the 1990s by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the eponymous number suggests a range of values to the number of socially significant relationships that individuals can maintain, pinning—and certainly not without inviting rigourous debate—the number of cohesive and stable groupings to around one hundred-fifty.
Arriving at this number through ethnographical studies and researching the cognitive capacity of non-human primates defined three categories of decreasing connection as bands, kinships and tribes, being the broadest and largest affiliation. Though perhaps the original studies were skewed towards the WEIRDs and there are appreciable cultural differences as well as varying capacity for differing personality types, the foundation of the theory seems solid and is reflected in institutions and organic organization. The critical question that presently scrutinises Dunbar’s Number is whether social media, especially for those digital natives who have never known a time without an online presence, changes that ratio. What do you think? It is unclear if we are increasing our reach and ability to sustain meaningful relationships with the help of technology or if like the low-demand but rewarding feeling of accomplishment that we get from amplifying outrage, this sort of popularity is a poor substitute for substance.