Posts Tagged ‘Dunbar number’
Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
The media has a steady stream of stories about how the younger generation seems to be obsessed with staying in touch via cell phone and computer these days. You hear stories about kids sending 10,000 text messages a month, checking their MySpace or Facebook page several times and day and using micro-blogging services like Twitter to inform all their friends about what they’ve had for lunch. Virtually anyone over the age of 30 is left thinking “These kids need to get a job!”
But the September 7th New York Times Sunday Magazine had an interesting article by Clive Davis titled “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You: How News Feed, Twitter and Other Forms of Incessant Online Contact Have Created a Brave New World of Intimacy” that helped me understand that maybe there are benefits to this level of contact. While any individual communication via Facebook, Twitter or news feed appears to be insignificant, in aggregate they create an “ambient awareness” which is similar to being in physical proximity to someone and picking up on what’s going on with them by their physical cues. This awareness makes us feel like we are close to people with out actually communicating with them one on one. The common reaction to this faux-connection is one of horror and lament about the decline of western civilization but it’s not all bad.
The author describes a phenomenon called the “Dunbar number” in which research has confirmed that human groupings tend to tail off at about 150 people. These social websites and apps don’t necessarily help increase our number of close connections but they do help expand and stay connected to our larger informal network. This has real benefits for anyone trying to network professionally.
If you’re going to use these social tools for professional networking, I wouldn’t recommend you update people on what you had for lunch. But I would recommend that you use them to share information and resources you think might help your network in their business. When done properly, it’s a fairly easy way to stay in front of people and build the perception of expertise. For example, I follow Robin Good on Twitter and he “tweets” several times a day with links to interesting web applications. Sometimes I feel like he tweets too much but unlike email they’re pretty easy to ignore so I’m less likely to unsubscribe from his feed.
If you’ve wondered what the appeal of these social technologies is, I suggest you read this article. It does a good job of describing how they work and why anyone would spend their precious time using them.