the first time i ever read this article was such a major ‘aha’ moment. everything about the monkeysphere theory made perfect sense to me. here’s the main point, in case you don’t feel like clicking that link (though i strongly recommend it)
You see, monkey experts performed a monkey study a while back, and discovered that the size of the monkey’s monkey brain determined the size of the monkey groups the monkeys formed. The bigger the brain, the bigger the little societies they built.
They cut up so many monkey brains, in fact, that they found they could actually take a brain they had never seen before and from it they could accurately predict what size tribes that species of creature formed.
Most monkeys operate in troupes of 50 or so. But somebody slipped them a slightly larger brain and they estimated the ideal group or society for this particular animal was about 150.
That brain, of course, was human. Probably from a homeless man they snatched off the streets.
the article explains so much about human nature, but it concludes by advising us to accept our shortcomings, and not listen to inspirational speakers who entice us with the snake oil of enlightenment. but why listen to inspirational speakers, when we can just look around us and see the evolution ourselves?
i am, of course, referring to online social networks. even a moderately friendly social media enthusiast** maintains regular contact with several hundred ‘friends’. certainly we don’t interact with every one of them every day, but over time, we do maintain a circle of contacts that is well outside our monkeysphere.
and i should stop referring to us as ‘we’, for in fact i am talking about myself, and some encouraging indications that i am indeed functioning beyond the limitations imposed on me by my monkey brain.
i continue to surprise myself with the number and variety of conversations i can carry on at once, how many threads of various length and depth i can participate in at once, and how many people i maintain ongoing connections with. certainly these are not all relationships of serious substance, but the fact is, i am keeping up with way more than a hundred fifty people.
when i first became active in social media circles, this was much harder for me. i’ve never been one of those highly socialized types, and not only is my memory not what it used to be, it was never really that good. but the structure of online communities gave me tools to improve my memory, allowed me to refresh my recollections when necessary with a profile view or a glance at archives. and slowly, as my lists of friends grew, so did my ability to retain a sense of familiarity with them. this is, in a way, a form of mental exercise much like the popular brain-training games, except that instead of su-do-ku puzzles or rapid-fire math questions, i’m learning to care for a wider and wider circle of people.
on one level it almost sounds to me like i’m trying to justify the (rather obsessive) amount of time i spend playing around with social media, and in a way, i’m sure i am. but at the heart of all this is, i spend this time and make these connections and this feels amazing. it almost sounds pretentious to claim that by doing this, i am somehow evolving, but the truth is, i honestly believe that i am.