Contrary to the popular idea of continuously hiding offensive posts or blocking someone, I decided to attempt something different. If you have been thinking about improving the quality of your social circles, you might find the following perspective helpful.
My decision to reevaluate my Facebook personal account was partially based on the Dunbar number. The research was started before social media’s popularity took off and has surprisingly held up over time. It basically states that a person’s cognitive ability is directly related to the number of relationships they can maintain. In particular it makes a strong argument that a cohesive and healthy community unit is no more than 150-200.
Your Inner Circle
We have three levels of friendship that make up our inner circle. The quality of these relationships have not only been proven to be a key factor in our mental health and overall well being, they influence us and help us understand out identity.
- Your inner circle who are 1-2 close friends, with no more than 5 people, who you can rely on without question. They represent the number of intimate relationships you are capable of having. We know who these people are because we share our deepest secrets with them.
- The next circle is made up of 15 good friends. These are your soul mates. They have shared interest, regardless of points of view, and you see them or talk with them on a regular basis. We can laugh and joke freely with this crowd. With the social media data, no matter how many contacts you have these are the ones who show up regularly to engage with you online and in real life.
- Followed by a grouping of 50 persons who you perceive are equals, peers, and colleagues. These are people who you can call on if you are in town, grab a coffee or a beer with.
Keep in mind if you have a romantic partner that ends up being good or bad for you, they get to jump the line. Everyone loses their position and shifts to the right to make room for that special someone.
The last circle of friends we are capable of maintaining is on average about 100. These are the kind of people you would invite to a personal event. In general these are people we want to maintain associations with such as neighbors or people we work with. In some cases this can be up to 200 before it becomes absolutely meaningless. Which begs the question, if you were going to host an event and give free tickets, would you send out invites to every one of your connections? If not, why are they on your personal Facebook account? Why do they have a front row seat to your life?
The Strength of Your Circle
Popular euphemisms would have us believe in the beauty of friendships as ever lasting. That they are there forever. But in reality there are all kinds of relationships that last for a season before we go on to other relationships. Turns out it is normal and healthy for us to gain new relationships and learn how to let go of old ones. Which means your inner circle can fluctuate. People move up and down, in and out. To top that off 50% of the people who are in your inner circle may not regard you as one in theirs. The good news is if your circle is smaller than what’s presented you probably have a higher quality of connection. Or you grew up in a small close-knit community and maintained those connections well. As long as you don’t feel like you are missing out, this is good for you and research say you will live a long and happy life!
This pattern doesn’t only hold up in just personal relationships but has professional implications as well. In support of that we find additional resources that prove a business is more successful and better integrated in relation to results if it organizes their structure and functionality around the idea of 150 person communities.
The other 200+
The other side of the 150 is a number that we have been encouraged to over look. With the ease of social media and living in era that doesn’t provide much social guidance, we can easily find ourselves with a large following. For some people this can be advantageous for them and I am not going to knock that. But for the average user if we are not careful we start to fall into the false idea of impressing these acquaintances. That is where the research reveals the associations with depression and anxiety. We are social creatures and require interactions that benefit both parties. By encouraging one-way behaviors we give credit and influence to people to speak for us who are not in actuality important to us and in turn neglect those who are.
I absolutely believe that social media used intentionally can be a great tool for our personal welfare. Understand why you are on it and what you are getting from it is like setting a gym date with a friend. As long as we remember to use it in a way that helps maintain the relationships we have. Which brings me to the problem that we should all consider regardless of how you feel about the Dunbar number.
We know social media has evolved and developed tools to enhance the experience. The problem is they are not designed to benefit you or your well being. Algorithms limit who can see your post and when. They are choosing your friends and their value to you based on their content and their popularity. We are generating content for them and the rewards go to whoever can keep their friends on the longest. With all the data they have collected the truth is Facebook doesn’t know you or what you want. Resetting my account further validates this. I cannot find people who I want to explore having a deeper more meaningful connection with because we do not have a mutual connection. On the flip side it recommends people who I know are bad news. I don’t know about you but I certainty don’t need a algorithm to calculate who my friends are and who I enjoy spending time with. Unless of course it wants to take responsibility for the outcome of those relationships? Nope. Not a chance. Facebook doesn’t understand our relationships and their value to us so it is on us to take matters into our own hands.