Janice Atkin, Education Sector Manager, talks about the idea
of social connectedness among young people...
I am often asked "how do young people with hundreds of "friends"
on Facebook manage to keep up with them and stay connected with
them all?" Generally my answer is that those young people who are
sociable personalities probably do it very easily because they have
mastered the technology of social networking.
However, as I was reading an article
this morning by Gary Kim it got me thinking about this
The article was discussing a new study by Professor Robin Dunbar
from Oxford University that suggests social networking sites such
as Facebook cannot increase the number of "meaningful
relationships" any single person can have. Professor Dunbar's
research asserts that humans are only capable of maintaining a
maximum of 150 friendships. This figure has come to be known as
The theory behind "Dunbar's number" evolved during the 1990s and
relates to the concept that the size of our neocortex, the part of
the brain used for conscious thought and language, limits our
capacity to manage social relationships that exceed 150 friends,
regardless of how sociable we are. Professor Dunbar is now studying
social networking websites to see if the "Facebook effect" has
stretched the size of social groupings and therefore our capacity
for maintaining more friendships. Preliminary results suggest it
Professor Dunbar states, "The interesting thing is that you can
have 1,500 friends online but when you actually look at traffic on
sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150
people that we observe in the real world".
This got me thinking about the nature of the relationships I
have with my Facebook "friends". If you look at the surface
of my Facebook account I have 128 "friends". But the reality is
that I probably am meaningfully connected both online and offline
with only about 30 of these people. My other friends tend to be
people I went to Uni with, people I have worked with, played sport
with or went to school with. I watch these people's status updates
with some interest but not necessarily with a high level of
engagement. However, it does make me feel connected to them and I
know that the random conversations that we have once or twice a
year always take me back to the good times we spent together -
definitely giving a boost to my wellbeing.
But does this online social networking necessarily equate to
social connections and can these online friendships for young
people translate into supportive networks that can help them get
through tough times they might experience?
What do you think? Have you got meaningful relationships
with more than 150 friends? Are you using Facebook or other social
networking sites to maintain some of these friendships? Do you feel
connected to your online friends? Is your online network just an
extension of your offline network, reinforcing connections that you
also nurture offline?