Monday, May 31, 2010

Face it: Facebook has limits, too

I ONCE WROTE a newspaper column noting that as life went on it became necessary to rid your brain of names to make room for the new people that you meet along the way. For all of us, it is the inevitable tipping point of memory that must satisfy a clear recall of the starting lineup of your old baseball team or the name of your sixth grade geography teacher. After serious consideration, I decided that I had to make a list of the least worthy of those crowding my memory, beginning with a nasty cousin whose name I've now purposely forgotten in order to add the name of a neighbor.

I don't know how many people I can identify with a name now, even if I leave out the guys on my old baseball cards. But it's doubtless a lot. And the number keeps changing daily.

So imagine my interest in reading that technological diversions as mighty as Facebook have their limits. (I'm not a Facebook user, but do try to keep up to date to be hip f0r social gatherings.)

According to a report in the New York Times, the people who run Facebook have capped the number of Facebook "friends" at 5,000, which is not likely to sit well with some of the 400 million users. The term for Facebook cleansing, I believe, is "unfriending," which simply means clearing out a name here and there to make room for others. True, these are painful judgment calls, but so are a lot of other things in our lives.

The Times also mentioned a British anthropologist and Oxford professor, Robin Dunbar,
who says the human brain can't deal with more than 150 "stable interpersonal relationships", which is probably why Congress is always fighting over something. It's called "Dunbar's Number," should you ever end up on Jeopardy.

I should stop here. I have told you everything that I know about Facebook. But it was good to know that my brain had unfriended one of my cousins long before there was an internet. In other words, I will take credit for being well ahead of the curve. Cool.


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