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Posts Tagged ‘dunbar’

Professor Dunbar Says To Call Your Mom

Professor Robin Dunbar poses that the maximum number of individuals with whom a human can maintain social cohesion is 150. Hence, “Dunbar’s Number”. Essentially “social cohesion” means that you have some degree of awareness of who another person is beyond simply their name and their Twitter handle. Further research seems to show that we can follow 500 acquaintances (we know a bit more than just their name; for example, we might know to whom they are married), and we can match some 1500 faces to names. As I’ve written before we then cone down through various circles (friendly acquaintances, casual friends or “buddies”, close friends, and best friends), and there is a nearly constant movement in and out of all but the closest inner circles. (HT NYT and Teddy Wayne for the reminder).

How has electronic communication altered this dynamic? It turns out that there is rather little change in the numbers involved. Weird, huh? You’d think that FB, Twitter, Snapchat, and Messenger would have increased the numbers but in fact Dunbar’s more scientific rationale–the size of the neocortex determines the number of contacts–holds true no matter what type of communication connects your network. Dunbar does have some thoughts on SM and its effect on relationships and they can be summed up thusly: remote connections maintained electronically crowd out the possibility of newer, closer friendships created locally and in real time.

My bet is that you can easily confirm this in your own groups as I did just the other day. A friendship 15 years in the making, one that was probably on the border between “buddies” and close friends, has been on the wane after a retirement and subsequent move south (and up), it’s gotta be 10 years ago now. A (very) brief interaction around a death in the family is the sum total of our engagement for a couple of years, yet I have managed to remain connected through occasional social media “engagement”. What remains of our friendship is my memories of times together, and perhaps warm feelings on both sides when those memories arise.

But Dunbar is right; mourning the friendship that was keeps the slot occupied and therefore unavailable for a more intimate, current, local friendship.

Key to all of this is the “how” of our interactions. Mrs. bingo and I organized a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour at a local bistro that turned into a raucous up too late bacchanalia with our inner circle. Cell phones were pocketed throughout (with the tacit agreement that we could text if our kids reached out) and we hugged each other, punched shoulders, and shared all manner of concoctions through the night. Yes, it all started with a group text, but that was simply the flint struck to light the campfire for the evening. We were together in the realest sense of the word.

How can we further combat this “crowding out” effect of modern electronic communication brought on by the availability afforded by our ubiquitous, irresistible smart phones? Easy. It’s in the name of the tool: phone. Short for telephone. Initially “cell phone” after the towers that were first erected to transfer…wait for it…telephone calls. VOICE! Voice, once taken for granted, has now become so exotic that I have been informed that I must first make an appointment to call someone on the phone. Indeed, the voice call is only slightly less rare (at least between friends) as a handwritten letter.

Therein lies the solution my friends. Your handheld computer is a telephone. It’s not even all that retro: Captain Kirk famously spoke into his communicator (“Beam me up, Scotty.”) in the future of Star Trek. Call your friends. If that seems a bit too anachronistic or archaic indulge in a video call. Hear them/see them between those occasions when you can shake hands or hug. More voice, fewer posts/texts/messages/snaps/tweets, especially for anyone in the “buddy” circle or closer.

Now, get off the internet and go call your Mom.