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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Friends and Acquaintances

Facebook has eroded the definition of the term ‘friend’ to the point where nearly anyone can qualify. I have ‘friends’ on Facebook that I’ve never met in real life. I even have some ‘friends’ that I’m not sure I know in any way (they know people that I know, but I don’t remember if I’ve met them before). Back in the days before Mark Zuckerberg took over the world, we called people like that acquaintances. I guess that’s too fine a distinction for Facebook.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about who your friends are versus who your acquaintances are. You aren’t placing a value on any person, you’re just describing the relationship you have with them. Friendship is a living, breathing relationship. It’s engaging and active. Some friendships are dormant for most of the time, but when the friends come together it’s as if nothing changed due to the intervening years and miles.

Acquaintances need to re-connect when they come together. They remind each other about life-details, they usually engage in small-talk and they don’t plan on meeting each other outside of other events or occasions. Acquaintances are great people, they just aren’t friends. Yet.

You will always have a pool of acquaintances that is larger than your circle of friends. That’s normal and natural. Your brain (my brain too) can’t handle more than about 150 friends. This is known as Dunbar’s Number and it states the limit on how human brains can keep track of social connections. You might be really good and you can keep 230 people straight in your head, or you might struggle to manage 100, but the limit is usually around 150.

The average number of ‘friends’ that someone has on Facebook is 245, which exceeds even the upper limit for Dunbar’s Number. For people like me with 759 friends, we can’t hope to keep everyone straight in our minds. I have a lot of acquaintances online – or Facebook-friends – but that doesn’t necessarily translate into real friendship. That’s OK.

How do you differentiate between friends and acquaintances? How many real friends do you have on Facebook? 

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