More likely, the limitation isn't in your cortex, but in your schedule. It takes time and energy to maintain a relationship. Physical space is sometimes an issue, too; one commenter on the Life With Alacrity blog observed that workgroups broke down when they got too large for one member to shout across the room to another.

Yet new venues like MySpace are simplifying this logistical challenge, and it will get easier as time goes on. Are we at the beginning of a "Dunbar Transformation"?

We can easily envision tech fixes that could expand your "socialization limit," in the way writing and data storage expand your "memory." Maybe Dunbar's cortical limit implies you can only think about 150 people at a time, at one given moment - hold their data in your personal RAM, so to speak, as opposed to your neural hard drive. If that's true, is it important? On the futurist site Edge.org, entrepreneur and mathematician Adrian Scott envisioned a technological platform that would permit us to maintain vastly expanded social networks by using tailored Customer Relations Management (CRM):

"We end up with personal CRM systems to handle our increased interaction load, and then add ... heads-up display style interfaces in glasses and, eventually, retinal and neuronal interfaces. 'Hi Jerry! Ahh.. we met back in 1989, May 14th at 7pm, and since then we've exchanged 187 e-mails and 39 phone calls. I hope your cousin's daughter Gina had a wonderful graduation yesterday.' The whole range of interactions becomes organized. Introductions from one person to another and rating systems become automated."

(Game designers may someday help create such a reputation system. See "Game Design in the Transfigured World" in The Escapist 21.)

It's likely this "personal CRM" would evolve first in online games, where we routinely interact with hundreds of strangers, often worldwide. As this hypothetical infrastructure developed, your guilds would grow lots bigger, and you'd swim in a figurative ocean of friends and acquaintances.

Do you want that?

What do you expect from a relationship, anyway? That the other person attends your birthday party, knows your children's names and would lend you money in an emergency? (Or, in online game terms, will team with you and let you take the drops?) Possibly that's good enough, right now - but in the future, when anyone may know your name or do you a favor, will we therefore raise the threshold of "friendship"?

"With these trends, the friction costs of personal introductions go down, and consequently the value of quality measurement and gatekeeping go up dramatically," Adrian Scott wrote in his Edge essay. "As the depth of knowledge in a relationship increases, the threshold point at which you 'really know someone' increases also. It's an arms race of intimacy."

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay and Looking Glass.

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