Social Networks Over Time and the Invariants of Interaction
Just as there are certain cognitive limits to the number of individuals one can have as part of one’s social network, it also appears that there are cognitive and temporal considerations for how humans manage their interactions. In particular, we find that the reported average closeness to all friends decreases as the number of one’s friends increases, suggesting an invariant total expenditure on social interaction [emphasis added]. An increase of one in the number of close social contacts was associated with a decrease of 0.03 in the average closeness of each individual contact on a scale where 0 = do not know and 1 = extremely close. An increase of two close contacts was associated with a decrease in closeness of nearly 0.06 (a substantial reduction on this scale). Because, in prior research, ties are typically modeled as either present or absent, with no strength information, these findings are some of the first of their kind.
We are embedded within networks, which are related to how we help others, and even to our health. But these network connections are not unbounded: we have a finite social attention span. As we gain more friends, we become less close to all of them. So this embeddedness in networks is a precious thing. Understand the implications of social connections and use them wisely.