Almost twenty years ago, Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, wrote a paper suggesting that the number of people we can maintain "stable social relationships" with is between 100 and 230. The "Dunbar Number" has been pegged at around 150.
As evidence for his theory, Robin Dunbar looked at the size of ancient
villages. Roman legions and academic faculties. The numbers were all
roughly the same. On the face of it, social networks blow a hole in the
Dunbar number. But do they really? In most networks, small groups of
like-minded individuals gather together to exchange ideas, and sometimes
even pick the odd fight.
Some argue that it's appropriate to have large networks in order to find
and maintain their "Dunbar network". Others (me included) don't make
thousands of connections, but form and maintain their Dunbar network
from a smaller pool. They're different strategies to a common end
My Dunbar network is composed exclusively of people I've met
face-to-face. For me, that's an important part of social bonding.
However, I know of successful small networks of people who have never
been in the same place together.
Does the Dunbar theory work for you, and if so, how do you build and maintain your Dunbar network