Today’s technology, from social networking to smart mobile devices, is changing the way business is conducted. Now you, as a businessperson, have access to more information and more ways to connect to others than ever before. It’s an exciting time to be a professional with so many ways to develop new relationships and to manage the ones you already have. You can search these networks to connect with other professionals who have similar backgrounds, interests, or customer profiles and then download their contact info to your smart phone. What an exciting time! But with exciting times come challenging questions.
With this explosion of contacts comes a strong feeling of amnesia. How often do you look at a social profile and think to yourself, "I'm friends with this person on this network, but I don't really recall how I know them or why we are friends on this network - or others for that matter." Most of us can associate a few people in our contact universe with this thought, but do you know exactly how many you do? And for the ones you do recall, how many times did you try to reach them and realize that you don’t have their correct contact information?
I think you would agree that it’s great that you have so many people with whom you build relationships. But at what threshold does the effect of social overload kick in? When does more become too much? And, more importantly, when does too much begin to have a negative affect on your ability to manage and grow your network?
Current research being performed on the subject by Robin Dunbar, a famous British Anthropologist, has theorized this problem. He believed that an individual can stay in touch and maintain a relationship with a maximum of 150 individuals (Dunbar’s number) at a time. This number has been very well publicized by Malcom Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”. Dunbar even added that for a group of this size to remain updated, an individual would have to spend 42% of his time cultivating relationships. Of course, they are other bigger numbers floating around like the Bernard-Killworth number which suggests a higher number of 290 individuals at a time.
While those numbers widely differ, it is fairly clear that there are many limiting factors to this number including relative neocortex size (the part of the mammal brain involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language) and the time we can spend maintaining those relationships. Of course, with the emergence of social networks and new means of communications such as Twitter, this maximum number of active connections may increase as relevant, updated information is delivered to your fingertips without leaving the office and the time it takes to maintain a connection using these new means of communication have decreased significantly. To answer this question of the impact of technology on social behavior, Dunbar is re-actualizing his study using Facebook as the field study. It won’t be long before we know with results being released in 2010.
Even with all these theoretical studies, these are all questions that maintain a subjective perspective and differ for everyone. Over the up coming weeks we will begin to address these questions and how professionals can take strides to get a handle on these challenges. Check back every week for updates on how you can tackle this issue.
Also, don’t forget about Spoke’s “If only I had Spoke…” contest. You could win $100!