Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is currently challenging British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s theory known as the Homo sapiens cortex ratio – the maximum number of people (approximately 150) with whom we maintain a genuine relationship. In short, someone, if our paths crossed, we would invite out for a libation.

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Last week I attended the 2009 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. It is my industry’s premier networking event. Made me think about Dunbar’s numbers, which I first read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Being a student of networking, I pride myself on the Homo sapiens cortex ratio, but more importantly the quality of connections I have made over the years. After Chicago, I further subscribe to Dunbar’s theory.

How did Dunbar develop this number? He studied the 38 primate groups, collected data and then developed an equation to predict the human social group size. Dunbar then researched information about hunter-gathering tribes, religious groups, etc. His findings based on historical documentation, indicated communication and behavior attributed to direct connections remained under control at 150. Meltdown occurred above 150. As a result, as villages or colonies approached the magical number, they would split in two and form a new group.

Social media is currently challenging the number of people to whom we can stay connected, thanks to the Internet explosion. People continuously forge new relationships and boast about the number of people in their network – personal or business. Is it possible for an individual to have one to two thousand connections? Absolutely. What has morphed, thanks to the presence of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., is the definition of a connection. According to Webster’s definition – a person connected to others esp. by marriage, kinship, or common interest: a casual or logical relationship as in social, professional, or commercial. Social media facilitates these connections like no other medium in the history of mankind. However, given the number of ephemeral connections I have made over the years attending the NRA, National and Regional conferences or via the Internet, my social media query follows:

· Without the face-to-face time needed to incubate a casual social, professional, or commercial relationship, how genuine are your “connections”?

· We live in an age of transparency thanks to the Internet. Are your connections’ profiles authentic?

· What is the average shelf life of a social media “connection”?

· If you bumped into your connection, would you feel at ease to sit down for a glass of wine? More importantly, thanks to social media clutter, would you even recognize your “connection”?

Remember, Robin Dunbar would challenge how many social relationships you realistically manage?