Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Looking for Mr Dunbar

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 result.

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

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