Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, came up with a piece of research about the effects of nurturing friendships and social connections on people’s lives. He uncovered the tremendous health benefits of having true and meaningful relationships and, most interestingly, he tried to quantify the average amount of social connections people generally have. Therefore, he revealed what is now called the “Dunbar number”, stating that people generally establish between 100 and 200 social connections (commonly referred to by its average, 150).
Nowadays, roughly 10 years into the social media era, having 100 or 200 connections would categorize us as being socially disconnected or unpopular. What is, then, the magical number? How should we navigate in today’s life without feeling unworthy of attention or unpopular?
These are questions people commonly struggle with for fear of being left out. It is all due to the culture of showing off, to the building of social media personas that don’t have much to do with our real selves, and to the lack of privacy and moderation that social media interactions incur.
- We are encouraged to become friends with people we don’t really know – that poses threats to our well being as well as disconnects us from our true friends by watering down our connections.
- We get worn out – following so many people’s activity on SM as a result of the competition for new connections, gets people exhausted and not very eager to establish connections in real life and be authentic and curious about them.
- We never feel popular enough – there will always be more popular people out there, and we will always want to acquire more popularity to become like them, which can have us go down into a negative spiral. Back in the day when you didn’t have an exact measure of other people’s popularity or your own, you relied on feelings, sensations, feedback from peers, actual smiles and rejections that helped you alter your behavior and shape your personality in accordance with whom you wanted to become . It is now only likes and shares, that can mean an infinite amount of things.
- Popularity feeds off itself – not many people realize that social media popularity increases in a geometric progression, just like investment money or disease spreading. The more people you have in your network, the more chances of people seeing you and getting connected with you. That is why is far more hard to get your first 100 connections than to get from 3200 to 3300 connections.
- Popularity equals loss of privacy – the loss of privacy is twofold. On one hand, you have to expose yourself by generating interesting content such as photos, videos, text or shared content, and on the other hand, you have to give up on your entry barriers into your online community. The consequence, is getting more and more exposed to people that you know less and less.
- If you want to revert, it can backfire – imagine that you might, one day, want to decrease your network to gain more privacy, or might want to change the nature of your online presence without losing popularity. This is a very risky and complex process, people might get offended with real life consequences, as well as you might get offended or even disappointed or depressed.
- Unless you have a purpose, working up your popularity on Social Media is an utter loss of valuable time – that is probably why SM networks are becoming more and more commercial, because unless you can actually sell your popularity online, trying to be popular is a merely vain and unproductive enterprise.
- We dilute our messages – as a consequence of going over our real life popularity we have to rationalize more our interactions and become less authentic. As a result, we end up diluting our messages, connecting less and shouting more. We start using catchy short sentences with emoticons and question marks instead of real phrases and real dialogues with people.
- We devalue feedback – although is such an important part of life and the sign of true communication and learning, more often than not, when we think only of our SM popularity we deter feedback. Feedback frightens us, eats up our resources, engages us emotionally, detracts us from our path, makes us human. So what do we do? We ignore it, we diminish its importance by aggregating it and turning it into graphs, we take pride in sticking to our plan in spite of criticism and we focus our resources on producing new content instead of reaching out to people, because our purpose is not communication, but popularity.
- A false sense of status – SM popularity can confer a certain degree of social acclaim or fame, but building up one’s status is a complex affair that involves real life interactions, approval of peers, reputation and long term commitments to a cause with outstanding results in the process. And while I am not saying that one excludes the other, falsely taking social media popularity as status could lead the most naive of us spending their valuable resources on a false cause.