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Social Connectivity: Opposite of Loneliness?

Relationships are an integral part of life: physical attraction/repulsion caused by magnetism/gravity, chemical bonds between molecules/ions, biogeographically separated ecological niches, and socioeconomic ingroups/outgroups. These are all networks. And so we come to the one people are most familiar with, social networks. We identify ourselves by the social units and relationships that tether us, and consequently, social connections define us. Humans are social creatures.

By syllogism, that makes me social, also vulnerable. The pink elephant in the room–comfort of social media has cultivated a new kind of loneliness. MIT professor Sherry Turkle shared her take on this phenomenon in her “Connected, but alone” TED talk. When I first listened, I initially felt familiarity and relief–whew, I’m not the only one who sometimes feels lonely. Yet, the sad truth: Loneliness is now a common ailment, whether people realize it or not—loneliness not from a lack of connectivity but from the strength of the edges that connect us as nodes.

As much as people enjoy the real-time companionship of friends and family, unfettered by technology, many are unable to forgo the gratification of instant messaging and the ubiquitous nature of today’s social media. As we continue to place an irrational significance on Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, and Snapchat snaps, we find ourselves hard-pressed to balance the relentless attention demanded by social media formats with the intimacy of face-to-face interactions. Many are afflicted by “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

Social media is the perfect platform upon which we can observe and test many social theories. Game theory tradeoffs between certain types of posts, incentives to like and share, and perhaps even commenting traffic. But staying on the subject of loneliness, how strong are the edges that connect us? There are many questions to explore. Do triadic closures influence loneliness? Negatively or positively? Exploring insecurities, if all nodes of a triadic closure have strong ties with one another, does the variable differences in tie strengths imitate the feeling of being left out? That was worded poorly, so, for example, if A, B, and C are close friends, would A’s level of loneliness increase if B and C were to have a stronger tie than A-B and A-C? Basically, are implications of strong/weak ties within triadic closures relative and is there a way to quantify such connections to mirror real-life interactions more accurately?

Dunbar’s Number (Wikipedia):

“Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150.”

Is there a way to utilize triadic closures to make a more close-knit social community that can exceed the expectations set by Dunbar’s Number? If loneliness is ever quantifiable by graphs of nodes and edges, is there a magic number that exists? Would any number of connections above that magic number (as opposed to below) make the network more brittle?

A personal note in conclusion:

However, Turkle’s assertions are too technologically deterministic. Yes, social media is overwhelming, but it is ultimately our responsibility. People have accepted this situation, unwittingly and self-debilitatingly.

There is a poem I chanced upon that mirrors this: “You made me do it” said Frankenstein/as he strangled his inventor/”I’m just a product of your mind/and you’re my only mentor”.

Let’s take ownership of our social activity. We don’t have to be lonely, nor are we forced to be.

Sources:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/

http://vimeo.com/70534716

http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number

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