The Illusion of Facebook Friends

Today’s world of social media is an illusion. Facebook and Twitter deceive us with the promise of unlimited friendship and business connections. Unfortunately, our brains are not wired for infinite associations.

It is true we can have 5,000 “friends” on Facebook and unlimited numbers of followers on Twitter. But Robin Dunbar, English anthropologist, says the size of the “tribe” we can handle is 150.

Our brains are hardwired to handle only so much input. Think about it. You may have 500 friends on Facebook, but how many would you actually sit down with for a cup of coffee? Certainly not 500.

A recent Indiana University study bolstered Dunbar’s Rule of 150. They studied 1.7 million Twitter accounts over six month and analyzed 380 million tweets. The average Twitter account had real ongoing conversations with just 150 people.

The friend filter for facebook study also concluded that our brains are not changing. Technology is not going to give us the power to turn into social super freaks. We are simply reorganizing and selecting who we want to be in our tribe. So, out with the weird cousin and in with the business associate from Bismarck.

Social network companies are beginning to see the need to help users organize friends. The new Google+ project attempts to deal with this by encouraging users to categorize friends. This soon-to-be-released social network will allow users to create “circles” of friends.

Wrap your brain around the idea of your digital tribe and consider the impact of this as it relates to how you handle your business and social life. Here are a few suggestions on implementing the Dunbar Rule of 150 into your life:

*Know who those 150 friends are. You don’t have to start “de-friending” people on Facebook, but think about who is important in your business or social life.

*Win them over. Go out of your way to pay attention to their needs, understand their problems and be there when they need it. Talk to them as individuals, not as a single drop in a sea of “friends.”

*Don’t get caught up in following the next shining star that pops up on the Internet. veterans know what I am talking about. Focus on the people who have been there for you. Maybe better things will happen if you focus on them instead of chasing happiness.

*Listen and then try to respond thoughtfully.

These simple rules apply to business or personal relationships. The Indiana University study said it best when it compared social media and calculators. Calculators did not make us math geniuses. Our brains can only do so much. Facebook and Twitter are not going to make us social rock stars. Focus on who is important and chances are you will find Internet peace and success

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