Our group met for the first time on Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 7:30 PM to discuss Broadcasting Your Life: The Effect of Social Media on Interpersonal Relationships.

Resources from Think Again (Economist article here).
How the Internet Enables Intimacy (video)

And for fun:
Facebook in Reality (video)


Feb 26th 2009

Even online, the neocortex is the limit

THAT Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks will increase
the size of human social groups is an obvious hypothesis, given that
they reduce a lot of the friction and cost involved in keeping in touch
with other people. Once you join and gather your “friends” online, you
can share in their lives as recorded by photographs, “status updates”
and other titbits, and, with your permission, they can share in yours.
Additional friends are free, so why not say the more the merrier?

But perhaps additional friends are not free. Primatologists call at
least some of the things that happen on social networks “grooming”. In
the wild, grooming is time-consuming and here computerisation certainly
helps. But keeping track of who to groom–and why–demands quite a bit
of mental computation. You need to remember who is allied with, hostile
to, or lusts after whom, and act accordingly. Several years ago,
therefore, Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist who now works at Oxford
University, concluded that the cognitive power of the brain limits the
size of the social network that an individual of any given species can
develop. Extrapolating from the brain sizes and social networks of
apes, Dr Dunbar suggested that the size of the human brain allows
stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this has become famous as
“the Dunbar number”.

Many institutions, from neolithic villages to the maniples of the Roman
army, seem to be organised around the Dunbar number. Because everybody
knows everybody else, such groups can run with a minimum of
bureaucracy. But that does not prove Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis is correct,
and other anthropologists, such as Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth,
have come up with estimates of almost double the Dunbar number for the
upper limit of human groups. Moreover, sociologists also distinguish
between a person’s wider network, as described by the Dunbar number or
something similar, and his social “core”. Peter Marsden, of Harvard
University, found that Americans, even if they socialise a lot, tend to
have only a handful of individuals with whom they “can discuss
important matters”. A subsequent study found, to widespread concern,
that this number is on a downward trend.

The rise of online social networks, with their troves of data, might
shed some light on these matters. So THE ECONOMIST asked Cameron
Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, to crunch some numbers.
Dr Marlow found that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook
network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis, and that women
tend to have somewhat more than men. But the range is large, and some
people have networks numbering more than 500, so the hypothesis cannot
yet be regarded as proven.

What also struck Dr Marlow, however, was that the number of people on
an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts
is remarkably small and stable. The more “active” or intimate the
interaction, the smaller and more stable the group.

Thus an average man–one with 120 friends–generally responds to the
postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the
posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average
woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to
two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man
interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among
those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat
higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for
26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

What mainly goes up, therefore, is not the core network but the number
of casual contacts that people track more passively. This corroborates
Dr Marsden’s ideas about core networks, since even those Facebook users
with the most friends communicate only with a relatively small number
of them.

Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are
not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an
outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar
circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet &
American Life Project, a polling organisation. Humans may be
advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same
small circles of intimacy as ever.

See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13176775

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