In the 90’s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered that our ability to connect in groups tops out at about 150 people. Sounds like a lot, but these innate limits have been seriously put to the test by the inception of online social networks.
In the past, people came and went from the landscapes of our lives- those of us who remember the pre-internet days know that there were just people you once knew that you’d wonder, “what happened to that guy? I hope he’s not dead,” and kind of move on. But services like Facebook uniquely make it so anyone you’ve ever known is more likely than not to be one poke away.
Dunbar’s number bears out yet again with new testing of the theory done using Twitter. (Social network Path actually limits your circle to 50 followers.) i09 breaks down the science of the meaningful connections we make via social media, and the natural numerical limits inherent therein:
[Indiana University’s Bruno Goncalves] and his research team studied the social networks built by three million Twitter users over the last four years, which meant looking at a whopping 380 million tweets. Most Twitter users fall into a familiar pattern – they start using the service, then they build up a huge number of friends, and then they get overwhelmed. Once the saturation point is reached, Goncalves found people start to pull back on the amount of people with whom they remain in regular contact.
And just what was this Twitter saturation point? Why, somewhere between 100 and 200 people, of course. Even with all the tools of the digital age, people couldn’t get past the Dunbar number.
Do a quick scan of your Facebook friends or Twitter replies- how many people are you really interacting with versus the ones to whom you are connected?