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Dunbar’s number, Granovetter’s research and why social media is worth my time

Posted by on June 24, 2010

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.  Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

Granovetter’s research  showed that weak ties are unbelievably valuable – in some cases, more so than strong ties – when it comes to disseminating (or gathering) information. 

Using social media like Facebook and Twitter allows me to maintain weak ties well in excess of Dunbar’s number, with out having any adverse impact on my in-person social network (which is well under Dunbar’s number 😉 )  In practice there are many friends that I have (or would have) lost touch with that I now stay in contact with due to Facebook. 

There has been much recent debate about the value and inherent pitfalls of social media.  Social media in itself is not problematic, it is our natural tendencies that are magnified by social media that cause the concern.  In other words, if you are an introvert and already struggle with maintaining personal relationships, misusing social media as a means to retreat from uncomfortable personal interactions is unhealthy.  Likewise, if you are an extravert and you devote excessive time in socializing on said media to the detriment of personal productivity, this is not healthy either.  As with most things in life, its excess and our own lack of self control which pose a problem.  Used in moderation, social media can greatly enhance the number of healthy relationships that would otherwise be impossible.  This is why it’s worth my time.

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