Oct 032011

CrowdIs it possible to have too many friends?  Or in the social media world have we just devalued the notion of friend?

What Is a Friend?

  • A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts
  • A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.

There are at least three levels of friendship (four if you count old friends with whom you have a past, but no real current relationship):

Best Friends

These are the folks that have know you for a long time, know your less-than-stellar qualities and still love you in spite of it all.  They are the ones you can call in the middle of the night when your car has broken down, or pick you up at the airport when your ride has fallen through. You can share feelings, doubts, problems, goals and set-backs.  They are your family, your clan, your tribe.

Close Friends

Close friends are the ones you like to be with and have fun with, but the level of intimacy stays pretty much on the surface: no real discussions of news and politics, religion/spirituality, or major life events.  You like each other but you don’t really know one another well enough to go deeper.


These are people you see regularly, you know their names and a bit about their lives, you share small talk with them.  You like them well enough, you are friendly with them, but you aren’t really interested in going beyond that level.

Dunbar’s Number

Over twenty years ago, anthropologist Robin Dunbar began studying the social groups of primates and found that as the brain got bigger, so did the size of the primate’s social group.  Using this research, he found that the optimum size for social groups among humans is around 150 people.

What is so surprising is that this number is true throughout the millenia: it’s the average size of farming villages in Neolithic times, the optimal size of modern nomadic tribes, the basic military unit size from ancient Roman times to today.  It’s not the only size, but it is generally the size of groups that have a strong incentive to remain together.

(you can read more about Dunbar’s Number in Wikipedia)

Who Do You Really Care About?Facebook Friend

So if you are like me, you thought the more the merrier when it came to making Facebook friends.  But once I became more seasoned, I realized I didn’t want to know who was doing what in Farmville or Mafia Wars.  I also could not (and really did not want to) keep up with scores of people that I would put in the “acquaintance” category.  I am happy for you, but my brain is to small to absorb all that information.

So I am cutting down on the number of my “Facebook Friends”.  It’s no reflection on you personally, but in my social universe your star is just a little too far away for me to keep track of.


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