A few years ago, English professor Robin Dunbar wrote in a study that the brain can only manage up to 150 friends. Dunbar found that if a person tries to maintain more than that number, the relationships would deteriorate. At the time, many online articles compared this with Facebook’s friend limit (of 5000) for profiles; it was the big beat-up in tech news.
Today, I am finding it increasingly hard to stay on top of the connections I make. Sure I’m likely to remember who someone is, but it’s less likely that I will be interested in how they are going, or what they have been doing recently. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t be bothered keeping up this friendship any more”? The easy thing to do is to forget, and move on. Reestablishing contact is hard, but it should be done.
When I started my Facebook account in high school, I had thought that the friends’ list would be a great way to keep track of how many ‘real’ friends I had. Now, the friends’ list is really now a ‘connections’ list; a way to keep in touch with people I meet.
I categorise all my friends on Facebook using groups. It helps me remember how I met them. Some groups are more important to me than others. There are groups that you constantly care about, then there are those which you don’t check up on as often. Most of those I ‘neglect’ are great people who I only meet/associate with once, and unfortunately nothing else.
The longer a friendship is left alone, the harder it is to revive it. So what can be done to keep friendships fresh?
Dunbar defines a ‘meaningful relationship’ as one where you know how the other person relates to you, and to others you are closely associated with. He goes on to suggest that contact with a certain friend at least once a year would be enough to maintain such a relationship. But with social media supposedly bringing people closer together, and young people and professionals becoming more time-poor, what is the least we can do to maintain connections?
Is an occasional like, favourite or retweet enough? I don’t think so. What about a ‘Happy Birthday’ post every year? If it leads into a short conversation, that might be fine. For now, it seems a brief IM conversation is good enough.
If there was some way for someone to be notified each time their friend smiles or laughs at a post, without them having to write ‘:)’ or ‘lol’, then we would feel a bit more appreciative of our friends, as well as know how many people read what we post.