In his TEDx talk, Can the Internet Buy You More Friends? Robert Dunbar discusses the normative perception of the internet and social media compared to the reality. He explores the cognitive limits of the human brain and how it relates to the global village of the internet and human social groups overall.
Robin Dunbar argues that the global village is actually somewhat of a myth. Despite the fact Facebook allows you to have thousands of friends, most people are not genuinely connected to them, meaning it does not actually widen users’ horizons, according to Facebook’s internal data (1:23-127). When Facebook did an analysis of all 400 million facebook users, they discovered that people were actually much less likely to talk to their listed friends as previously believed. The average number of friends a user had was 150, while the modal value was between 120-130. They analyzed the listed friends based on: maintained relationship,one-way communication and mutual communication. Furthermore, they disaggregated the data into separate compartments of users with 500, 250, and 50 friends to determine how many real friends people have. Although each incremental increase raises the mean by an order of magnitude or factor of 10, most people only had between 3-10 real friends they communicated with. The reason is particularly interesting, Dunbar says that there appears to be a cognitive limit on the number of individuals we can personally keep in our network. He lists a couple hypotheses, such as the Social Brain Hypothesis, which studied apes and monkeys to show that social group size was determined by brain size and primates live in more complex social units so they need a bigger “computer”, so to speak (3:07-3:25). When you plug humans into the regression equation for the theory, the predicted group size of 150, which is called Dunbar’s number. Obviously, this study was completely separate from Facebook data analytics. He then distinguished between several human social groups in small world experiments, hunter-gatherer societies, and Christmas card networks, but ultimately the mean and mode was the relatively the same.
This TEDx talk was particularly interesting because of the social brain hypothesis and human social group theories Dubar elucidated. Over 6500 years before the common era, Neolithic villages had 150-200 person social groups, today modern armies have around 180 person groups (5:31-5:47). This shows a clear cognitive purpose to determining the number of individuals humans allow into their personal social groups. It ultimately boils down to a dilemma with the human brain. We cannot invest our cognitive capacities to form genuine connections beyond 150-200 people. Time also plays a very important component into the relationships, because the strength of each relationship is directly determined by the amount of time invested or spent with them. How has our perception and value of time impacted our social groups and personal networks?