How many friends do you have?

The talk about the (career) need for a wide range of “friends” with small interest overlaps reminds me of Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft and their relation to depression.

The short version:
Gesellschaft is to do with “work community”: single-strand interactions predominate: the postman. Gemeinschaft relates to “neighborhood community”: Postman Pat. If our lives are full of shallow interactions, we are more linkley to suffer anomie and alienation.

By spending hours keeping our “networks” sweet, we risk losing the most valuable time we have: the non-work enriching hours with family and Gemeinschaft relations, those who share our interests, ideals and mores, those whose children and hobbies and dogs we know. Yes, this is another call for balance between work and home life.

An interesting problem comes with workplaces which seek to enforce “multithreaded” relationships dsespite being essentially product-oriented: if they succeed, they create the same stifling pressures that village life had – leading to another form of depression. If not, they simply irritate those forced to give lip service to the Corporate Mission Statement.

A very different aspect is those who make online Gemeinschaft communities (for good or ill) with mainly single-thread relations in the physical commumity. They make the global community stronger, but shrink the range of opinions aired in the local community at the same time as they weaken its weave.

How many friends should a child have?
Various figures are tossed around for how many people we can “know”, commonly 150 to 300. Beyond that, it is said to be recognising faces and names – quite a different thing. I’ve not seen any serious research, though – I bet they’d find there is a great deal of interpersonal variation.

Still and all, though some people worry about a child with “only” two friends, I’d worry more about the one with a hundred.

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4 Responses to “How many friends do you have?”

  1. Shayna Says:

    It’s an interesting point, although I don’t believe having hundreds of ‘shallow interactions’ excludes one from having several deeply meaningful relationships also. It’s an unfortunate fact that ‘networking’ is an integral part of success in many industries. There can be benefits however, not just in ‘quid pro quo’, but in learning to manage relationships and how to interact with many different people. We are generally a very social population and I don’t see the danger in being adept at socialising.

    • erasmid Says:

      Very true, we can have many one-purpose links and deep relationships too.

      However, I have met too many who have only the thin thread type, feel they are socially successful , and can’t understand their feelings of deep loneliness / pointlessness, even within marriage. (As with the extreme cold prickly case, not that this is a fuzzy/prickly matter, they may not have had the rich form and so not realise their lack)

      So, I wanted to emphasise keeping that in mind, for example making a social classroom as well as a formal education space.

  2. Mark Pegrum Says:

    Julie, the research you’re looking for about numbers of social contacts comes from two main places. There’s the evolutionary biology/psychology perspective as represented by Robin Dunbar, originator of Dunbar’s number (n = 150) as the upper limit of social connections the human brain can comfortably manage. Then there’s the sociological work going back to Mark Granovetter, whose research shows the difference between – and importance of – both strong and weak social ties. In the same vein, you might look at the much more recent work of Robert Putnam. If you want to look at how this all applies to social networking sites, then the key names are danah boyd and Nicole Ellison. Hope that gives you a start … but let me know if you want more specific recommendations.

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