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Sunday, April 3, 2016


I found an interesting New Yorker column while surfing around last night. The Limits of Friendship by Maria Konnikova deals with evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s studies on friendship – the number of chums we have and how things like Facebook and Twitter effect that.
Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty. Anything beyond that would be too complicated to handle at optimal processing levels.
Frankly, 150 sounds like too damn many to me BUT the study’s author was talking about “number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party.“
The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner.
 Again, that seems like a total, way too big, fuck-ton especially for a dinner party. I could see ten maybe and that doesn’t take into consideration the fact that groups are exhausting for me even if I’ve got a good ‘terp handy.
The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members).
Yep – I can dig it.
One concern, though, is that some social skills may not develop as effectively when so many interactions exist online. We learn how we are and aren’t supposed to act by observing others and then having opportunities to act out our observations ourselves. We aren’t born with full social awareness, and Dunbar fears that too much virtual interaction may subvert that education.
Dunbar goes on to say that, in virtual world, when someone’s pissed on your fairy cakes or barked crazily at you, it’s easy to just pull the plug – not deal with it and walk away. True BUT, in some cases, yanking that plug is the smartest thing that I can do.

Generally speaking, I’m apt to discuss shit – to attempt to find common ground – even if all we do is agree to disagree. I’m NOT one to argue. I won’t engage in a big heated stew PERIOD. To my mind that accomplishes a lot more than nothing. I learn that I can’t trust a friend to remain civil.

I’ve serious, solid ground rules for difficult discussions. Yeah, this is where I go all Spock-like.

1) No matter how passionate I may be about a given topic, I will always return to facts. You know, actual verifiable reality. I work fucking hard to find core truths. Propaganda has no place in debate – at least not with me. Also, if you can’t parse fact from fiction, boyhowdy, you’re not tall enough to get on my ride.

2) I want/need/WILL stay on topic. I’ve known a few folks who shift the focus of the debate when they feel cornered – when, mebbe, they feel they’ve lost ground on the original point they were flaming about. Yeah, no admission that they could’ve been in error. Fuck no! They charge on to another angle of attack.

Can’t stick to verifiable fact? Can’t stay focused? Well then, the ride stops.

I know that shit like this went down before the invention of Facebook (or ShoutyFace as TBogg calls it) and Twitter. Honest. It just seems like it's dialed up to eleventybillion now.

Dunbar asserts that live, in person interactions makes for better communication. Yup. Konnikova sums it up nicely:
If you spend most of your time online, you may not get enough in-person group experience to learn how to properly interact on a large scale—a fear that, some early evidence suggests, may be materializing.
I think I need a third ground rule – all heavy discussions must be done face-to-face not screen-to-screen.

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