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Dunbar's number

So, I've been off of Facebook for a week and a half now.  Since I am not responsible for the Because I am  Girl FB page while I'm on leave, there is no professional requirement to put up with the personal stress of being there.

I was feeling a lot of responsibility around Facebook. I was feeling like I should have been:
1. Posting/reading more about Idle No More.
2. Wading into huge fights on my own Facebook threads that seemed really complicated and overwhelming to me.
3. Talking about the personal stuff I am going through in some sort of role-model way to encourage others to also take care of themselves.

Shutting my account down has been a huge relief on these fronts.

But I'm also conflicted about it.  When Jesse talks about what it is like to go back to Facebook in this LJ post, he says (in part): "Oh my god I missed people! I felt so cut off while I was gone from that place!" And I really do get what he is saying about that. There are people I pretty much only interact with through Facebook, and I do miss their presence since deactivating my account. 

At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about Dunbar' Number:

Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar's number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.

... that makes a lot of sense to me.  It's really hard for me to keep momentum on thousands of "relationships".  I am feeling a real desire to hunker down in a lot of ways, and have conversations over email or the phone or in person, with people who I love and trust. I have had of people check in with me privately since I shut down my Facebook, and every time I have the urge to reconnect my account in order to get some kind of interaction with the world, I reply to one of those messages instead.  I've been setting aside time for meaningful correspondence, and have even resisted writing up some kind of official statement about why I'm off work right now and just copying and pasting it to everyone who asks, without really thinking.  I guess one of the things I am doing is trying to be a more mindful friend.

It's not easy! It's much easier to broadcast things, even super personal things.

And just to be clear, I DO think talking about things in public has a lot of value.  I feel like it's good for certain issues to stay on people's radar, and I have had a LOT of people tell me that they don't interact with me much on Facebook but get pretty much all of their news from things I post or conversations I have. So that's nice, but I guess it's a different thing from building a community around me.

I DO  feel a sense of community when I post on Livejournal, which is I guess semi-public. I think the value is more to me than to anyone who might be lurking (Sarah's comment to this entry, for example, feels like an invaluable insight), but also wow LJ feels like a lot of work.  I guess it's valuable work though, it's just harder because the fact that it requires deeper engagement is also what makes it so important.

There are just so many people who will never see what I post here, though.  And it's true that that is a big part of what makes it great, but it also means the bulk of my friends (online or otherwise) won't ever read it or weigh in.

I wonder if I could make a FB list of only 150 people (the low end of the Dunbar number) and just post anything personal filtered to that group.  Maybe that would be a part-way compromise? I really don't know.  Maybe that would still feed into the pull of shallow/broadcast posts? Everything burns out of FB so fast.



( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2013 01:38 am (UTC)
I imagine one thing that would be stressful for me would be to have to be role modeley when really I just want to tell someone to shut the hell up. Would it help (or be MORE stressful?) to have a public, professional, sort of Marigold-ey page, and then a personal page under a pseudonym? I'm thinking like an Audra fanpage and then a ponycow-like personal page? Fanpage for signal boosting and solidarity? Personal page for telling people to fuck off? The only thing is you like to be nice to a lot of people so maybe you would feel compelled to have them on your personal page? Then you have to curate two pages?
Jan. 22nd, 2013 01:46 am (UTC)
Why aren't YOU a therapist?? I need your voice in my head always.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 02:00 am (UTC)
I'm way too mean and easily bored! Can you imagine the look on my face when someone complained about their boss for the millionth time?
Jan. 22nd, 2013 06:23 pm (UTC)
you could be one of those...employee assistant program shrinks.
i had one who, after i unburdened deep personal issues, said
not even kidding one word

"So what are you going to do about it, Jane?"

she wasn't wrong, exactly.

Jan. 22nd, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
Now that's my kinda job! Do you get to do that job all over the phone in your pjs?
Jan. 22nd, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)

my boss "saw" one of these counselors via some chat program complete with

"Tell me more" leans closer

what a racket!
Jan. 23rd, 2013 03:05 am (UTC)
Oh man! I use that mirroring tactic for when someone I dislike is complaining to me. Poor you. Good thing EAP is free.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
it's designed to be *very* short term.
like. you never go back.

to be fair, there was a decision i needed to make.
her approach frustrated me but she was not wrong.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
I miss the days that LJ was a place where people would talk about what was actually going ON in their lives. I had most of my "real life" friends that I saw daily/weekly on LJ so we were pretty close.

I never really use facebook in that way because it was just never designed for that. At best, it's designed for short anecdotes, personally, and longer threads about current events.

For lack of a better way to see it, fb is my "newspaper" (broadcast, as you say) and LJ is my journal.

Do you feel like fb is just an information overload that requires too much investment with not enough payoff?
Jan. 22nd, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
This exactly :)
Jan. 26th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
I feel mostly like FB is too shallow for me right now? I am trying not to just skim the surface at the moment. But I will for sure need to find another way to make sure I'm getting my news!
Jan. 22nd, 2013 02:06 am (UTC)
"I guess it's valuable work though, it's just harder because the fact that it requires deeper engagement is also what makes it so important."

That's like friendship in general. The deeper you engage with people, the more meaningful the connection. I find that Facebook can be so incredibly fast and byte sized (?) that we chew it up and spit it out.

I like LJ cuz it's like a little corner of the internet that has a small select group of people who I interact with on a more intimate level. Even though I don't post as much on here these days, I keep feeling the pull to do more posting here.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 02:58 am (UTC)
I am really glad you are still LJ posting, I always read your posts with interest, and they usually leave me with some insight into your life or myself, or both. I find the LJ forum much more accessible since it is populated with so many fewer people... I can say all sorts of things that all of my theatre colleagues don't need to know. I try to reply to your entries when they've lead me to some insight, because i figure it's nice to feel like someone is paying attention, you know?

Facebook makes me stressed, too. I think I mostly have it so that I go on getting invited to parties (that I rarely go to because I am a hermit?) I could never have a job where facebook was a significant part of my work load.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 03:58 am (UTC)
I think about Dunbar's Number a lot! I've never really thought about applying it to my online life like that, though. It might be amazing!
Jan. 27th, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
I've been using Dunbar's number for a looooong time, since an article on... cracked? Maybe? From about 2007? I have a handful of FB lists that run from well inside Dunbar's number (about 50) to just under it, to high end (about 250), to just everyone I know. I use them to filter updates by how personal they are, and I only really check the ones I feel like I can handle at that moment.

I'm not suggesting that any of this is a good way to deal with FB, but I've personally found it a super useful model for stopping myself getting overwhelmed on the interwobbles.

edit: I found it, and it's the reason why I call the folks I keep inside that number my monkey-sphere!

Edited at 2013-01-28 12:00 am (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2013 06:39 am (UTC)
FB for me is my public persona, and LJ is my private one. all of my entries are for friends only-especially after someone reading my entries around the time of The Incident decided to victim-blame me. with a couple of notable exceptions, LJ is the home of the people i care about most in the world, my inner circle. on FB i post a tonne, i know. personally, i'm ok with having surface relationships with the thousand people there. because i can keep in touch with those i care about the most via LJ and other means of communication... and work harder on forging local connections.

aside: i get abandonment issue triggers with people who have left eljay because they feel like it's not worth it for them anymore. i'm glad you're still here!
Jan. 22nd, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought about it that way, but I just went and checked out of curiosity how many people are on my Facebook filter for 'actually keep up with,' and it's 174. Dunbar wins again.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 06:04 pm (UTC)

Yes, OMG, yes.
Jan. 22nd, 2013 06:28 pm (UTC)
i have never had an FB account so nothing to miss.
i got a text from a sister re an FB message she got from a (distant) cousin in ontario, 'Tell Jane to get on FB'


as to the need for reassurance, me too.
instead of "are you mad?" (which i habituate to) i try to go with, "I feel uncertain and am asking for reassurance."

this really only happens with the 2 people closest to me in my life and/but i do know the territory. the latter statement keeps the responsibility on me.

love to your heart and inner person!
Jan. 23rd, 2013 05:21 am (UTC)
I think this is so, so great:

instead of "are you mad?" (which i habituate to) i try to go with, "I feel uncertain and am asking for reassurance."
Jan. 22nd, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
FB is... I don't know, less real to me than LJ. so hard to have anyhting like a FB conversation.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 01:20 am (UTC)
Facebook is a lot of work. Work to keep track of everything everyone's up to, work to wade through the more prolific of people to get to the heart of the matter, work to make time for it every day lest you fall behind. It's exhausting. And frankly I think it's unnecessary.

I'm biased, though, because I feel FB is inherently bad and evil, but I do maintain that while it has made maintaining some friendships more easy to manage, it's made the overall effort required to keep up with everyone just flat-out exhausting.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
I try to keep my number of FB friends under 100. I just get too overwhelmed when it's more than that, and often when the number does become unwieldy it includes troublesome people who I'm not really fond of and make my wall a battle ground. FB is supposed to be fun! It's also really flattering to be added to someone's FB when they have under 100 friends, in my opinion.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 05:06 am (UTC)
Interesting! I think my friends list on both FB and LJ are around 100. I never really understood how people manage with hundreds/thousands of "friends". What I also hate about FB is it promotes to the top of your feed those friends assumed to be closer, and hides those who assumed to be acquaintances. So sometimes a FB friend may post something interesting, but you'll never see it on your feed if FB thinks you are only acquaintances. It's probably not a problem if both you and the other FB user have a small # of friends, but it becomes an issue the larger the friends list. If an acquaintance/stranger with 500+ friends requests to friend me, I usually decline because i know they're never going to interact with me as I'll simply be drowned out. It will be a completely one-sided conversation. LJ does not mess around with your feed, so you get the opportunity to interact with people you don't know as well and get to know better. FB actually twarts you from doing so.
Jan. 23rd, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC)
I limit my facebook friends to about 100. I try to stay under 90. I find social interaction difficult and I don't have 90 friends, so I am sort of ruthless. I feel like other people don't need to know my business and I don't really need to know theirs.
Jan. 24th, 2013 01:05 am (UTC)
maybe it's good, here in lj-land, that you can't even just click "like" on something. it means that you get less feedback but the feedback you get is actually meaningful.

i like the spirit of this post :) also, i bought a jim munroe book at value village and thought of you
Jan. 25th, 2013 01:53 am (UTC)
I love this entry. It resonates so deeply with me! I do not remember Livejournal feeling like so much EFFORT 7-8 years ago... but it was also my drug of choice then, and there was no Facebook or Pinterest to distract me. Also, it's really hard to write about things that are hard. I've been wanting to write in Livejournal about so many different things on my mind, but it feels daunting, and I worry that I will alienate the people who read it, because a lot of it is repetitive and bleak.

I miss old Livejournal a lot... so, so much. I try not to lament it too much because OMG time passed and life changed WHYYYYYYY. I mean, of course. But I do feel lonelier without it.
Jan. 26th, 2013 05:03 am (UTC)
My whole approach to Facebook changed about a year ago when I made a private group consisting of the 25 or so women that I've been talking to more or less daily since I was pregnant with Z. We met on a parenting board, lived through its implosion and the implosion of the one after it, then ported over to a small private board, then got on LJ. But then when FB started winnowing LJ we all kind of drifted away and ended up dispersing. Facebook really isn't equivalent in any way and everyone felt bad about not updating on LJ and I don't know why it took so long to realize I could just do LJ on Facebook, but it has been great and I totally recommend it. I wouldn't do it with 150 people, but then 150 people is probably my entire friends list there and there certainly aren't 150 people I care to share my private life with. Another friend basically has a long ongoing group private message that has spooled out for a couple months between a half dozen of us. That also works really well.

So, I think of Facebook as being like a campus. And I walk across the campus and see people I know, and it's nice to wave and compliment them on their shoes and chuck their baby under the chin and see a couple picture of their vacation. But I don't really want to spend all day wandering around aimlessly and seeing people in passing, you know? It's nice to have a destination. I'll tend to look at the first few posts on my feed any time I check in, I don't even scroll down much. So if someone has posted in the preceding moments--if we happen to cross paths--great. Otherwise, you know, maybe next time. Which is why I didn't even realize you had gone! And I use it to crack wise. My phone changed how I used it, too, since it's way easier to post than it is to read, so I probably have more presence even though I actually spend less time there.

Anyway, I think it's fine for hearing about stuff, and there are people like my brother, who I don't have a close relationship with at all, who I wish were on there because it does work well at facilitating a kind of courteous loose connection that is handy and effortless. And total obstinate refusal to engage with it seems counter-productive and contrarian at this point. But, man, that's certainly not a nourishing environment. And I think it's worse than useless for political discussion and organizing, and wonder if people will realize that eventually, or, if not, what that's going to mean in the long term for actual social change.

I'm glad there's been a little Livejournal resurgence. It's so much harder but so much better.
Jan. 26th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
I am bad at explaining things with words. I think a private group works best when it is small and when it's an actual group--where the people all know and want to talk with each other. For the the public v. private, I think filters work better. I use them all the time for things I don't want all my family to know or questions just for people from Ottawa (e.g.).
Jan. 29th, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
I find the threads on your Facebook very interesting, but I can also see how they could be really stressful to you having them on your wall. The inside/outside of social media spaces are so fluid, so it's natural to feel some sort of responsibility but not the corresponding control there. I'm not sure how I'd handle having similarly big groups.
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