Brian Solis Debating Dunbar

Brian Solis (again) totally crystallizes what has been rattling around in my head for the past few months (at 21:55 in the video):

Here’s a transcript of the key part:

@briansolis: “Just think about Twitter compared to IM [instant messaging].  IM was all about your alias, it was really your true social graph in terms of friends and associates and family and then comes Twitter.  Now you’re you.  you’re out in public.  You’re not even necessarily talking ot your friends and family as much as people that you share ideas with or commonalities or themes.  […]  Dunbar’s Number has yet to really even apply to how most people … “ [Dunbar’s Number, for the uninitiated, refers to the theory articulated by Robin Dunbar that human neurobiology (all things being equal) limits us to being able to maintain approximately 150 “stable inter-personal relationships.”]

@scobleizer: “It still does actually.”

@briansolis: “Well, there’s science that says that yes, you are probably communicating with no more than 140 people.  But that assumes that you are communicating with people in a network.  What if that Dunbar Number was representative of people who got value out of the things you said, [and didn’t] necessarily represent a dialog?  … because Twitter is becoming less about the dialog.”

Social media, like any technology, augments human abilities.  Solis is among those theorists arguing (rightly in my opinion) that social media renders Dunbar’s Number obsolete.  It looks something like this:

  1. My hands can only transport so much dirt at a time.
  2. With a shovel, I can move a bit more dirt and life becomes more convenient.
  3. With a dumptruck, however, the game changes completely and we’re able to rethink fundamentals like transportation and how humans live/work.

The reason Dunbar’s number exists is because it’s highly inefficient and time-consuming to access topic-specific information from interpersonal relations.  If I want to know something, first – on a practical level we’re limited to those in proximity to us, we must invest ourselves in determining how authentic these people are so that we can trust what they tell us, our interactions require all sorts of “rituals of face” before we can get down to business, and unless it’s recorded (also time-consuming) that information is lost after they’ve told it to us.

Contrast that with social media, which renders proximity obsolete (like the written word it even renders time irrelevant in obtaining the wisdom of those who came before us), allows multiple instant ways of verifying someone’s authority, eliminates the need for obligatory “how are the kids?” chatter, and archives everything so that it’s searchable by keyword.

Social media is a dumptruck (sorry Ted Stevens).

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