10 March 2009

Real friends on Facebook

The Economist reports Facebook statistics that while the average number of Facebook friends is 120 most members communicate actively with a small, stable subset of that group i.e. a handful of real friends. There are gender differences: the average man with 120 friends responds to the postings of seven of them, the average woman to ten; men, on average, communicate actively by email or chat with four people, women with six. Looking at Facebook members with 500 friends, those numbers increase, but not hugely. So what Facebook builds is a network of casual contacts, who are tracked passively.

According to Kathleen Richardson (‘Over (net)worked’, Cambridge Alumni Magazine, No 56, Lent Term 2009, p 16-8 - no link) Facebook fits well with modern social relationships. She cites Alvin Toffler's argument in Future Shock that modern people (i.e. 1970) meet more people in the course of a week than someone in a feudal society would meet in a lifetime. Hence many relationships (e.g. with colleagues) are 'modular' i.e. limited to particular aspects of people's lives. Richardson suggests that social networking helps people manage those modular kinds of relationships:
"it does not matter if you do not interact with the vast proportion of your friends: they are there, and potentially you could."

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