full message: https://eraoflight.com/2018/02/14/social-media-is-killing-your-friendships/
Nobody is a stranger to deep diving into the Facebook rabbit hole. You know the scenario. For me, it’s a Tuesday night and I’m unwinding in bed, mindlessly scrolling “just a little,” when half an hour later, I’m no closer to resting. I’ll comment on a friend’s post and then Facebook suggests friending a former classmate, but instead of doing that, I’ll scroll through their profile and learn about the last few years of their life… until I see an article that sends me down a research spiral and a comment section that leaves my brain on hyperdrive.The next morning, I wake up feeling drained.
Maybe the blue light that illuminates our faces as we scroll through feeds and friends is to blame for disrupting our sleep cycle. Being unrested can explain the grogginess and irritability one has. Or it could be something else.
Maybe, as we tell ourselves that we’re online to stay connected, we’re unknowingly draining our social energy for in-person interactions. What if every like, heart, and reply we give to someone on the internet is actually taking away from our energy for offline friendships?
There’s a capacity for friendships, even online
While our brains can tell the difference between chatting online and in-person social interaction, it’s unlikely we’ve developed more — or a separate set of — energy just for social media use. There’s a limit as to how many people we’re truly in touch with and have the energy for. That even means that the late-night hours spent engaging in conversations with strangers online takes away from the energy we have to care for people we actually know offline.
“It seems we really can only handle about 150 friends, including family members,” says R.I.M. Dunbar, PhD, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. He tells Healthline that this “limit is set by the size of our brains.”
According to Dunbar, this is one of the two constraints that determine how many friends we have. Dunbar and other researchers established this by conducting brain scans, finding that the number of friends we have, off and online, is related to the size of our neocortex, the part of the brain that manages relationships.
The second constraint is time.
According to data from GlobalWebIndex, people are spending an average of more than two hours a day on social media and messaging in 2017. This is half an hour more than in 2012, and likely to increase as time goes on.
“The time you invest in a relationship determines the strength of the relationship,” Dunbar says. But Dunbar’s recent study suggests that even though social media allows us to “break through the glass ceiling” of maintaining offline relationships and have larger social networks, it doesn’t overcome our natural capacity for friendships.
Often, within the 150 limit we have inner circles or layers that require a certain amount of regular interaction to maintain the friendship. Whether that’s grabbing coffee, or at least having some type of back-and-forth conversation. Think about your own social circle and how many of those friends you consider closer than others. Dunbar concludes that each circle requires different amounts of commitment and interaction.
He says we need to interact “at least once a week for the inner core of five intimates, at least once a month for the next layer of 15 best friends, and at least once a year for the main layer of 150 ‘just friends.’” The exception being family members and relatives, who require less constant interaction to maintain connections.
So what happens if you have a friend or follower number greater than 150 on your social media networks? Dunbar says it’s a meaningless number. “We are fooling ourselves,” he explains. “You can certainly sign up as many people as you like, but that doesn’t make them friends. All we are doing is signing up people that we would normally think of as acquaintances in the offline world.”
Dunbar says that, just like we do in the face-to-face world, we dedicate the bulk of our interaction on social media to the 15 people closest to us, with about 40 percent of our attention going to our 5 besties and 60 percent to our 15. This ties into one of the oldest arguments in favor of social media: It might not expand the number of true friendships, but these platforms can help us maintain and strengthen our important bonds. “Social media provide a very effective way of keeping old friendships going, so we shouldn’t knock it,” Dunbar says.
One of the perks of social media is being able to engage in the milestones of people I don’t live near. I can be a voyeur of everything from precious moments to mundane meals, all while I go about my own daily routine. But along with the fun, my feeds are also flooded with headlines and heated commentary from my connections and strangers — it’s unavoidable.