The Limits of Friendship in Life

Limits of friendship in social life are good or bad; it is a long debate. Facebook first came into existence thirteen years ago and was followed by Twitter two years later. The introduction of these social sites is supported by several others such as Instagram and Snap chat have only led us towards a strange contradiction.

We are aware that socializing and portraying our personal lives, often incorrectly, through social media is not suitable for us and, yet, we still do it.

“The Limits of Friendship” written by Maria Konnikova (2014) for The New Yorker, analyzes Robin Dunbar’s number to see how much truth it holds and to what extent is our face-to-face social interaction being affected by social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, put forth the idea that each can maintain up to 150 stable relationships only. He referred to these 150 people as being those with whom you would feel comfortable enough if you happened to come across them in public. He further divided these 150 people into groups by a rule of 3, ranging from a higher category of acquaintances to a smaller group of really close family and friends.

Limits of Friendship-What’s Important?

‘We live and breathe through social media, yearning for a chance to show off our personal lives to our “friends.” Majority of these so-called friends would not even be aware of who we are in reality. Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit of the number of people with whom we can maintain a constant relationship – a relationship in which we are aware of who the person is and how every person that we know relates to one another.’

The article ‘limits of friendship’ by Konnikova (2014) perfectly summarizes Dunbar’s work and sheds light on how immersed we have become in social media websites. As the years have passed with an increase in the number of people joining these social websites, arguments have been raised against Dunbar’s idea.

They say that online networking allows for better communication with new people locally as well as internationally. However, even after further research, Dunbar’s number of 150 stands precedence amidst all the criticism.

Socialization Impact

Dunbar acknowledges the benefits of Facebook and other websites, but he maintains that you cannot achieve the same level of shared experience that you would respond via face-to-face interactions. Konnikova in ‘limits of friendship’ argues that although we do share some things via social media, we cannot generate those same feelings that we would while personally share something with someone in their actual presence.

The article will resonate well with the young adults, especially students at the college level who have most likely been using Facebook and Twitter since they were young teenagers.

This is the crowd that is most active on social media because they were growing up at a time when the internet was fast blooming and a captivating phenomenon for the new generations.

They learned to socialize online and make new friends when it was a new and exciting concept. And, for many outgoing young adults, it serves as the perfect opportunity to make a large number of friends, as yet oblivious to the fact that these “friendships” will not last long.

Limits-of-friendship

Limits of Friendship

Anyone who has been using social media sites or even phone applications such as Whatsapp will be well aware of the fact that this type of communication does not give you the satisfaction that a real face-to-face conversation would over, say, a cup of coffee. There is no real connection. We make new friends online, we have conversations with them, but they do not seem real.

Half the time, we share something funny online only to get likes but not actual laughs as we sit there looking at the image or video, just laughing internally but pretending online as if we laughed out loud. How likely are we to remember that moment?

Touch Communication

Will we bother remembering that we loved a post shared by a friend and that we laughed until our stomachs hurt? Konnikova logically argues in the limits of friendship.

Another aspect that Konnikova points out is that of the simplicity of touch, even if it is as light as a feather.

Although most of us would fail to acknowledge this as anything more than rubbish, Dunbar supports the notion of a simple touch, saying, “We underestimate how important touch is in the social world.”

A simple touch can tell you how someone feels about you. Virtual communication lacks this feature which makes it impossible for us to know how someone thinks about us and to what extent.

As Konnikova says, “Until social media can replicate that touch, it can’t fully replicate social bonding.”

And it is true, whether we realize it or not.

Think about it. Think about the kind memories and try to figure out why they are so significant. What makes them so unique? Why do we not feel the same way about so many conversations that we have had online?

In her article, Konnikova does remain wary of the fact that, although studies may support that Dunbar’s number holds significance, we cannot accurately know for sure as of yet because these social media websites were only invented a little over a decade ago.

So, even if children started using these sites when they were a year old, they are still not old enough for us to form a solid opinion as to whether our social circle really can or cannot exceed the 150 mark.

However, Konnikova does highlight a concern that “some social skills may not develop as effectively when so many interactions exist online.”

Our surroundings play an important role in determining how we behave in different social settings and how we treat others.

If we remain holed up in our rooms all day, counting on our social media friends to get us through everything, we cannot possibly learn how to interact appropriately with others. This, in turn, could further reduce our social circle well below the suggested 150 mark.

Bottom Line

This article is less than two years old, so it is safe to say that it applies considerably well to societies all over the world. It is relevant in the sense that it raises some serious questions about how much the internet has affected our lives and continued to do so. Is Facebook ruining our lives?

Are we becoming too consumed with online social interactions and the latest memes to laugh at? Do we need to keep a strict check on our daily online interactions?

The article raises some excellent points and gives reasonable explanations to those positions. However, not everyone may necessarily agree with it. Everyone has right to own opinion, and for many people, these social interactions may well have been beneficial to them.

We cannot ignore the fact that some of us have ended up making excellent friends through Facebook that we would now call some of our closest friends. Perhaps, it just depends on individual’s personality. Maybe extroverted people have no problem in making new friends be it face-to-face or online. Perhaps some have exceeded the 150 number and have plenty of really close friends.

Maybe introverted people cannot communicate online, or maybe they find it much more appealing given that they can avoid face-to-face talks where they do not always know what to say. It can go either way, all depending on the type of person that you are, the kind of college you go to, or the nature of people you work with and must interact with for work or leisure purposes.  Now, the question is, limit to the number of friendships we can maintain?”

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