Picking Robin Dunbar’s Brain: An Interview About Friends

How many friends can we handle? Are online friends different from ones we actually see? I raised these issues a few days ago in a post about Robin Dunbar and “Dunbar’s number,” which explored the trade-offs we face in devoting time to local friendship versus those more distant. Now, by chance, Filip Matous over at Brain Pickings interviews Robin Dunbar about these and other questions. An interesting interview about an idea that’s wielding much influence in evolution and social psychology of late:

We asked the iconic British social anthropologist himself, who addresses the issue further in his new book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? — we highly recommend it.The amount of time we invest in a relationship is proportionate to its quality. Face-to-face relationships are simply unmatched by online ones. “A touch is worth a 1000 words any day,” says Dunbar. But what online relationships are good for is to stall the decay of a relationship. If you don’t go to the pub sooner or later, it will die.” ~ Dunbar

But what of all those huge numbers of online friends, aren’t they worth something? Perhaps kinship. The difference between friendship and kinship is that kin won’t fall apart with time and distance; “you can abuse your kin and they’ll still come,” says Dunbar.

Dunbar argues that having lots of kin means having fewer friends. Imagine your time-budget devoted to relationships as a pie. When you start handing out slices of your time to your friends, if too many people crowd around, no one gets a proper slice. Kinship is more about similar social groups, interests, geographical locations, whereas a friend, defined by Dunbar, is a person you can have a personal reciprocated relationship where you are willing to do each other favors.

More at Brain Pickings. Via @brainpicker.

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