It’s not an exaggeration to say I live in and work on WeChat, the messaging app that’s the equivalent of WhatsApp plus Facebook plus PayPal plus Uber plus many other things.
As my iPhone battery use record shows, I spend about one-third of my daily nine-hour phone time on WeChat. That doesn’t include the two to three hours I use WeChat’s web version.
And I’m not alone in my heavy WeChat use. There are 829 million internet users in China, but over one billion WeChat accounts. Just about every Chinese online has at least one account, and some more than one.
Over one-third of them spend four hours or more on the app each day. The prevalence has made WeChat an indispensable part of many people’s lives and work. Two years ago, I met two people who refused to use WeChat, and I thought about writing a story about how people like them navigated work and life. Before I got around to it, both became my WeChat friends.
Obviously, it's not important and isn't really an accurate representation of either popularity or an outgoing personality, but seriously how do people reach these crazy levels? Do they simply add everyone they meet (or people who they've never met)? Do they travel a lot? How are they going to manage the bulk?
While we may be able to count 5,000 friends on the online social networking site, scientists have shown that human brains are capable of managing a maximum of just 150 friendships.
Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar has conducted a study of social groupings throughout the centuries, from neo-lithic villages to modern office environments.
His findings, based on his theory 'Dunbar's number', developed in the 1990s, asserts that size of the part of the brain used for conscious thought and language, the neocortex, limits us to managing 150 friends, no matter how sociable we are. And he defined 'maintained' friends as those you care about and contact at least once a year.
For the past few years, there's been a lively conversation about whether the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is making staying in touch so easy that the Dunbar number ought to be recalibrated. In a world where gregarious people routinely have 1,000 or more friends on Facebook, shouldn't the Dunbar number climb accordingly?
Facebook's own data scientists stirred the pot when they analyzed how many friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend connections it takes to link any two random members of the social network. The old aphorism about six degrees of separation may not apply any more, Facebook researcher Lars Backstrom reported.
Start with two random members from the same country, Backstrom reported, and they are just an average of three hops from knowing each other, Backstrom found. Let the sampling be global -- so that one might be trying to link people in Australia and Norway -- and all that's required is an average of 4.74 hops.
Professor Dunbar, however, isn't budging. In a deliciously blunt interview with Technology Review this month, he declares that all those extra "friends" don't really count as true friends. "Facebook has muddied the waters by calling them all friends, but really they are not," Dunbar declares.
Instead, he says, when we claim more than 150 contacts, we're padding our list with people who fit into patchier levels of social contact. The first is people with whom we have a nodding social acquaintance, and the second is nothing more than faces we recognize. By his tally, most of us have 500 of the first and 1,500 of the second.
Academic efforts to document Dunbar numbers in the age of social media are limited, although two Twitter studies suggest that 150 may still be a plausible estimate. One of the most entertaining tests was conducted by Wired writer Rick Lax, who contacted 1,000 of his Facebook friends to see how many of them he could engage with in a meaningful way.
As Lax ruefully recounted, many of his supposed friends either said they had no idea who he was, or had undergone major changes in their lives that he was left with the realization that he didn't really know them well at all. "In trying to disprove Dunbar’s number," Lax wrote, "I actually proved it."
I had 2000+ "friends" on Facebook when I was a student because I was a part of a lot of student organizations (one in my field of study, one in my university, a position in a national student organization as well). Those "friends" built up over time, with student I've met all around my country.
I could have met them in a serious way with student formation etc... or in a fun way by partying all over. I was really using Facebook as a network tool containing students from all the universities in my country. They were able to reach me for help or advice, and the same was true for me too.
But I was out of this 5 years ago, and since then I've been doing yearly review of my friends list, deleting a lot of contacts each year. Now I have less than 300 "friends", and this number will decrease again in the next review.
I have 2100 or so as of now. I think I only chat 100 of them.
In high school I was in like 5 different clubs. Played golf, so between fundraisers & events & games I hung out with most of the other 45 sports teams, lots of members of which I later became Facebook friends with. Then I added in friends of those friends from parties and bars, and I was at 2000 before I knew it.