YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY FRIENDS…OR CAN YOU?

Written by Joan Stevenson—

Spring is usually considered a time of renewal and fresh starts. Traditionally, some people go through the process of spring-cleaning to spruce up their surroundings and possibly get rid of unwanted clutter around the house. It’s interesting how things accumulate over time. The same could be said for your Facebook “house.” Could it be time to clear some clutter from your friends list? Just out of curiosity, have you taken a look at your friend count on Facebook lately? I did. I was talking with a friend recently about Facebook and friend requests. I realized that I had a LOT of friends, way more “friends” than people I ever knew in life. It made me realize that it may be time for a little house cleaning. I’ve had others on my Facebook feed occasionally say that they are in the process of weeding out their friends lists, this usually comes after something has happened, some kind of argument or shade has been thrown, and they are letting people know if you do not make the cut, “it’s not personal, I’m just cleaning house.” I seriously have a truckload of “friends” that I don’t even know or that I have the thinnest of the thin six degrees of Kevin Bacon connection to. When you think about it, how many people do you actually “know” in the course of your life?

According to Pew Research Center, 39% of adult Facebook users have between 1 and 100 Facebook friends, 23% have 101-250 friends, 20% have 251-500 and 15% have more than 500 friends.1 I fall in that 15%. The average number of friends among adult Facebook users is 338.

But seriously, do you really “know” that many people? My friends list snowball started years ago. I was entertaining in clubs around the city on a regular basis and I got to meet a lot of people. I was also involved with community theatre, so I got a lot of friend requests. When I got a request from someone I didn’t know, I would wonder where I knew this person from or how they came to ask me for a request, then I would look at the list of mutual friends that we had in common. If this list contained certain people, like people I knew from the bar, or people I knew from the theatre community, then I figured I must have met them somewhere even in passing so I approved their request. I never gave it a thought until recently when I noticed my friend count was so high. Now I only accept friends requests from people I actually know or those I choose to want to get to know and share with. I no longer automatically accept a request.

Facebook is all about connectivity. Originally founded as a way for college students to contact each other, Facebook has become about keeping in touch with your different clusters of social groups. Everyone has his or her circles. Friends, family, co-workers, classmates and then there’s the outer rim of people you might know from any of those markers, but who do you decide gets a pass as a “friend” is up to you.

I guess it all boils down to what your definition of a connection is. Is it a bond forged by actual physical interactive friendship and shared experiences, familial ties, work or school, or is it a label used to describe a totally virtual, superficial association? “I’m on Facebook” has become a throw away phrase to use in passing when you’re in social situations where possible connections can be made.

Way back in the ancient days of MySpace, profile users treated friends like accessories; displaying their top 10 or 12 like charms on a bracelet. The inference being the more you collected, the “cooler” you looked. MySpace was more youth driven so the circle of friends was more likely to be more school chums and personal friends. Facebook was still in the college stages, but eventually it made the jump to open social media connecting among adults.

For most of us Facebook is a way to reconnect with people from our past, keep up with people in our present, and collect acquaintances for the future, but how many friends do we really need? How many “friends” (virtual or real) can a human being really process? According to Robin Dunbar, an Oxford University anthropologist who studies social networks, any grouping larger than about 150 starts to strain the cognitive capacity of the human brain. Basing this figure on research into the brains and social habits of primates, Dunbar argues that we cannot effectively manage relationships with many hundreds of people. This goes for real-world friends as well as online relations:

“The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world,” Dunbar told the London-based Sunday Times. “People obviously like the kudos of having hundreds of friends but the reality is that they’re unlikely to be bigger than anyone else’s.” 

So basically it really doesn’t matter how many friend requests you accept, the number of people you actually interact with will stay constant. It’s like having a closet full of shoes, rows and rows of shoes. You’re never going to wear all of them so that closet will continue to get more and more cluttered. Even though you may keep buying new pairs, there are only going to be so many pairs of those shoes you are actually going to wear. There’s only so much information you can scroll through day after day that constantly bombards your brain. The more friends you have the more you will have to wade through and you have to admit, that sometimes it can get a bit tiresome. Trust me, it can be totally mind numbing! There’s only so much information you can wade through – food pictures, status updates, pissing and moaning about one thing or another, the memes, the inspirational posts, the viral videos, the chain posts, the SJW rants, etc. I remember the days when I could scroll through my news feed in a relatively short time, but now it would take several hours to get through all of the posts. Most days after a few minutes of scrolling through my feed, I just give up and go play Candy Crush. So I think a purge may be long overdue. Depending on how large your friends list is and how active you are with your social contacts, you might want to think about doing a little spring-cleaning of your own. So clean out that closet! Who knows? It might actually bring your network closer together and you may actually take a second look at your “friends” and decide who’s really worth keeping in touch with.

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/6-new-facts-about-facebook/
  2. http://bigthink.com/praxis/do-you-have-too-many-facebook-friends

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