The magic number: 150

13 Nov

My Facebook ‘friends’ number 149 this morning. The PR blogs linked to on the right stand at 153. What was it that Malcolm Gladwell had to say about the magic number in The Tipping Point?

Humans socialise in the largest groups of all primates because we are the only animals with brains large enough to handle the complexities of that social arrangement… If you plug in the neocortex ratio for Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8 – or roughly 150. The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us.

Most digital natives can use Facebook to greatly exceed the magic number, but for digital immigrants like me, this is pushing it. How many are on your Christmas card list?

3 Responses to “The magic number: 150”

  1. David Phillips 13/11/2007 at 4:42 pm #

    Ah… now if you look at these links and ask yourself if they are really part of your social group in the range of social contexts you inhabit, I will bet the number is still only about 150 when you combine them all.
    The name may be there and the memory but the interaction will be muted.
    A social animal will accept big crowds if they help sustain its groups.
    A football match is good if you can swap stories among half a dozen mates in the pub afterwards.
    I don’t believe we have modified the human DNA that much in a couple of decades.

  2. Alex 13/11/2007 at 6:17 pm #

    Good to hear someone taking a more balanced approach to the ‘how many friends is OK?’ debate. I totally agree with your point about Digi-natives acquiring more, but think the other distinction here is over how different individuals and groups use Facebook [and other social tools]. Part of the utility of Facebook for me is collecting and collating contacts of varying natures I’ve accumulated. Doubtless as the Zuckerberg mission to map the social graph is finessed I’ll have more scope to spearate out those groups. Others make a conscious decision to use it for professional or personal purposes only, and end up with correspondingly fewer numbers.

  3. Katy Marshall 14/11/2007 at 4:55 pm #

    289. Well at least my Facebook friends list would suggest so. However, with the use of social networking tools like Facebook who is going to send Christmas cards anymore? People will ‘go green’ and send Christmas messages on each others ‘walls’ as opposed to taking the traditional approach of sending festive greetings in the form of a card. After all, it’s intantaneous and inexpensive but is it really personal? I’m undecided… To be honest, I am not likely to send even a Facebook Christmas message to the majority of the people on my friends list. Probably only around half. So maybe there’s something behind the theory of 150 being the maximum number of people we can have genuine social relationships with.

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