Stories tagged how to eat pie


For the woman in the middle, the other two are numbers 151 and 152: Even on Facebook.
For the woman in the middle, the other two are numbers 151 and 152: Even on Facebook.Courtesy Brother O'Mara
Oooh, Facebook. You’re like a little invisible community of invisible robot people. You let us know what our worst enemies are up to these days, what our cousins look like when drunk, and who really identifies with Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” (No, like, really. When the sun shines, we’ll shine together, you know?)

And, of course, you’re turning out to be a fun sociological laboratory.

Remember a year and a half ago when you found out that you were a narcissist for having so many Facebook friends? And you were all, “Whatever. That guy I high-fived in the hotel lobby and I are besties, and he’s a vital friend, and so adding him to my friends list doesn’t mean that I’m just trying to accumulate meaningless social capital by presenting to the world how many people are interested in me in some way.”

And I was all, “Yeah, ok, you’re right.” Because your feelings, even if you are a narcissist, are very important to me, and I didn’t want you to be a sad narcissist.

But you know what else is important to me? Being right. And also science. So check this out: All but 150 of your Facebook friendships are… meaningless!

Say what?! My friendship with the Argentinean with a very similar name to mine is meaningless?

Yes, I’m afraid so. If you’re being honest with yourself, you and Juan Gordon aren’t actually that close.
Guess who's under the limit: Me. But it's only because I'm not friendly. Ever.
Guess who's under the limit: Me. But it's only because I'm not friendly. Ever.Courtesy JGordon

See, evolutionary anthropologists have found out that humans can keep track of about 150 relationships. And that number is nothing to sneeze at; 150 is a lot of relationships, perhaps the most of any animal.

As the new PBS series, The Human Spark, points out, brain size (at least in primates) seems to relate to the number of individuals an animal can keep track of. Chimps, with fairly large brains, can keep track of about 50 individuals. Humans have brains about three times the size of a chimp’s brain, and we can keep track of about three times that number of individuals. It’s part of why we can live in huge cities, and all that. (Read more about it and see clips from The Human Spark at Science Buzz’s Human Spark page.)

And that seems to be the rule: we can have meaningful relationships with only about 150 people. (I don’t mean meaningful in the “we tell each other secrets under the blankets” way, but rather in the “something that can be called a ‘relationship’ in anything by the most inclusive sense of the word” way.)

So what about those other 527 Facebook friends you have? Are they just chopped liver? Yeah, pretty much. Evolutionary anthropologists at Oxford University wanted to see if the 150 relationships rule remained true in online communities, where people seem to have much, much larger networks of “friends,” so they compared the actions of Facebook users with thousands of friends to those with hundreds of friends (or less.) The anthropologists found that there was no difference between the groups’ number of interactions on Facebook. That is, people with thousands of friends didn’t interact with or follow the actions of any more users than people with a couple hundred friends did. Just like in real life, you can have meaningful relationships with only so many people, and the rest are just there to (maybe) make you look cooler.

What do you think? Did you and your giant friend list just get sonned by anthropology, or do you think you and your 2000 friends are proving that online communities and relationships don’t follow the limits of biological evolution? (Because, of course, when the sun shines we—all 2000 of us—shine together.)