Why Social Networks are so Stone Age

Only for a couple of years social networks like Twitter or Facebook exist, yet they are already part of the daily lives of 950 million users worldwide. Being online is in! Taking care of your social life never seemed to be so easy. But is all this really new?

Up till then friends in other countries or even continents were a plane trip or expensive calls away. Now we can text them in every minute of our day or can even skype with them during our evening routine in our own living room. More or less for free, of course.

Distance between people around the globe has shrunk noticeably. It is perfectly normal that we have friends in many different countries. We are skyping with Paul, we are liking the photo album from Trisha’s holidays while tweeting about our new catch in one of our favorite online stores. Half of the user group between 19 and 24 years check their Facebook account even before breakfast. Well, in average there are 8 friend requests and several event invitations a month to process. Seems like the early bird really catches the worm!

Where the images are going

Where the images are going

To make a quick excursion to the field of Digital Imaging, social networks in their life-filling position of almost a billion users worldwide, did not only become the biggest social network but also the most important online storage of images. The time users spend on viewing their friend’s pictures and uploading their own albums promises that Facebook – like Mobile – is starting to become an important order channel in the future.

But looking at it closely, the new phenomenon Facebook which draws us so much closer to a wider number of people is nothing new. In average we count 130 to 150 people to our personal circle of friends and acquaintances which is divided into groups of private friends, colleagues, family, school friends and so on. Many people feel that their personal network has expanded due to the effect of Facebook. Interestingly, this feeling is disproved through Dunbar’s number. It defines a suggested cognitive limit of the number of people with whom a person can maintain stable social relationships.

For evolution biologist Robert Dunbar from Oxford University this number represents the psychological demands on each of us dealing with life in large groups. The idea behind this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size. That is why also English villages in the 11th or 18th century only had around 150 residents and not more. Moreover, it was the

favorite size for groups of hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age. But of course there are also modern examples. Functional textiles manufacturer Gore-Tex rather builds a whole new factory instead of adding workers to an existing one which already comprises of 150 employees. The basic idea of not building a larger factory is a working group which does notrequire a long-winded management level or even name plates.

It seems that Facebook is not a newly developed guarantee for many friends and acquaintances. Rather, also Facebook as a social network is bound to old structures and can, if at all, relocate our social contacts on a virtual level. The same goes for our really close friends whose number did not change due to the engagement in social networks. In average, five to seven close friendships can we rely on in our life. A number our subconscious is dictating us. Beyond this our mind loses overview and has to count items before orientating itself. Not very handy, is it?

That the average number of friends has risen to 190 people is due to the fact that we are quicker in accepting friend requests than unfriending people we do not have contact with any more. Anyone who is concerned with whom they share information and also who is then able to spread their data further, has to groom their friend list regularly. Just like in real life.

Oh, and the people on Facebook with 500 or more friends you can happily sort in the bragging section because seriously: Anyone who can keep track of that?

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