Friday, March 12, 2010

The Rule of 150

Research puts the number of people we can reasonably incorporate as a meaningful part of our personal lives at about 150.  There are individual differences, to be sure, but the limits in our ability to process and retain information that are imposed by the size and complexity of our cerebral cortex prevent us from knowing personally (beyond just a name and a few isolated facts) more than around 150 other persons—about the number of people in a small, well-established tribe. 

But we haven’t been strictly limited by the size and complexity of our cortex since the advent of written language.  And now, with our internet-based personal networking gadgets, we can manage the names, faces, and continuously updated trivial life details of hundreds, even thousands, of “friends.”   

It’s an obvious quantity-for-quality trade-off reflective of our mass-consumption approach.  We once lived in close contact with people who directly supported our physical existence and provided the raw material out of which we constructed life’s meanings.  Now we live in giant tribes of two-dimensional beings, engaged in a shared superficial monologue, searching for constant distraction, desperately trying to convince ourselves—through sheer quantity of experience—that our pathetic consumption-driven lives are meaningful.      

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