Dunbar’s latest research revolves around two studies of UK Facebook users. Survey respondents were asked to specify who among their Facebook friends could be relied upon in times of need and how many express sympathy when something bad is shared on the social platform.
Within an overage friend pool of 150 people, respondents felt they could only rely on less than five people during an emotional crisis and only expect a sympathetic response from less than 15.
The figures remained relatively constant even in friend pools that were much larger, reinforcing Dunbar’s previous research that humans are not able to sustain countless stable relationships, even when aided by social media and technology.
As Professor Dunbar notes, “there is a cognitive constraint on the size of social networks that even the communication advantages of online media are unable to overcome,” adding that, “at least occasional face-to-face interaction” is required to maintain “real” relationships.
The study certainly seems to confirm that human beings have natural limits placed upon our ability to create larger social networks with meaning, even when we have the tools to do so. Rather than creating ever-larger meaningful networks, we instead spend our time pandering to the passive entertainment needs of fake friends that actually don’t care about us at all. Now, if that’s not sufficient cause to do a “friend cull” I don’t know what is.