My most-often used social networking site – the one which has turned a 26-year-old Harvard alumnus into a multi-billionaire – tells me I currently have 191 “Friends”. That’s not many by the standards of some. When I look at the profile of one of those Friends of mine I discover he lists 4243 Friends. Which, to my mind, is stretching the meaning of friendship to the extreme.
In fact, within my very modest group of online Friends there are a few whom I don’t even know. I have no clue who they are other than that they managed to find me and ask to be my Friend. I rarely decline such requests, but I’m likely to cull them when I have my next bout of un-Friend -liness.
This morning while I was doing the dishes from last night (a really nice stewed beef and mashed potato dinner; “thanks hun!”), I listened – as I always do while washing dishes – to BBC World Service. In the piece I was listening to they were reviewing studies in social networks and how these relate to online networks.
Most of us have an average of five people whom we consider close friends; these may include partners and other family members. The next circle of friendship – “close enough that you would be comfortable spending a weekend together” – averages a total of 15, including the original 5. The next level adds another 35 individuals whom we interact with easily, and beyond that an additional 100 whom we might refer to as “a friend of mine”. So the average person’s manageable social world (slight cultural variances aside) is about 150 people in total. Which, perhaps not surprisingly, is the average number of Friends on the world’s most-used social networking site.
(Aside: Churches do not escape these social dynamics. Studies in church size show a distinct way of relating when the church is made up of 50 people or less (the 15 plus 35, above), and these churches are known as being “family size”. Aside from the pastor, there is often a patriarchal or matriarchal figure, or leading family, who call the shots and to whom everyone in the church relates directly. Moving beyond this size causes turbulence until the church grows to be firmly within the “pastoral size”, up to 150 people who look to relate personally to the pastor in one way or another. Beyond 150 the situation quickly becomes untenable for a single pastor, and the church needs to take on additional staff ready to fulfill a pastoral function.)
I’ve lost some friends. I’m looking for Mike Mott. Or Michael Arthur Mott. Formerly resident in Edmonds, Washington and at one time employed by General Electric. Birth year: 1962; maybe ’61. He was the best man at my wedding but somehow I’ve lost all contact with him. (I know!) Try punching his name into a search engine and you will discover there are far too many Mike Motts out there! If you find him, let me know.
A few days ago I tried again to find Mike and finally gave up. Out of curiosity about the efficacy of online searches, I went after a few other long-lost friends. No problem. Then I thought: “Okay, let’s push the boat out. What about that girl I used to sit with on the bus back in 82/83, when we shared a daily journey from Kirkland to Montlake?” It took me awhile to even recall her name, but once I had it, it only took a few minutes and a leap of faith or two to find she is living in California, goes by her married name, and is a published poet. I was skeptical until I traced some photos of her. No doubts, even thirty years on. Should I write her and ask her to be my “Friend”?
Don’t think so; I’m sure she’d un-Friend me in her next cull.