Earlier this year “How Many Friends Does One Person Need?” was published, written by Robin Dunbar. Currently a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, the number 150 is attributed to him as “Dunbar’s Number”. This being the maximum number of acquaintaces one can have. For those of us that do have an active Facebook account, the number of 150 ‘friends’ may be slightly lower or slightly higher than what our profile suggests.
However, these ‘friends’ are not necessarily people we speak to everyday, every week or even every month. They may be people we have met once, knew from many years ago or may be just a mutual friend. These so called ‘friends’ on social networking sites such as Facebook are called ‘weak ties’. A recent article in New Scientist, ‘Why Facebook friends are worth keeping’ discussed the possibility that these weak ties have a much greater impact on ones life than they necessarily should and are transforming our social structure. For example, research conducted at Harvard University has studied the various ways we communicate using social media. By building a ‘supernet’, that is a network of easily accessible contacts, many people now turn to these networks ahead of newspaper sources for information.
The New Scientist article suggests that studies have revealed that these ‘weak ties’ may benefit our health and happiness. The down side to this though may be the fact that social networking is good for maintaining friendships but possibly not building them, still relying heavily on face to face contact. Nevertheless, maybe all that time spent on Facebook isn’t such a waste? After all, if one conversation or piece of information produces something positive then it may be a useful way to spend an hour (or more) a day.
Richard Fisher, New Scientist, 7th July 2010, “Why facebook friends are worth keeping”