So my next-door neighbors moved across the country this week. So sad… they were great neighbors, a smart, personable couple that became friends. We’re connected on Facebook, of course, but it got me thinking about the ephemeral state of friendship and how social media has changed the way we connect with people.
I read an article not too long ago about about something the author called “The Monkeysphere“. In brief, the concept is that the way our brains are built restricts us to a community of about 150 people. This sphere of relationships contains all the people we really care about – family, close friends, etc. These are the people that you cry for when they’re hurt, the ones you really see as individuals with personality.
Outside your monkeysphere lies everyone else… the garbageman, the guy who makes sandwiches at the deli, President Obama… you get the idea. You may know their name, maybe even their spouse’s name, but if one of them died you’d say, “Oh, that’s sad,” and go on with your life. You don’t get too emotional about them, as you’re not really attached.
Now, however, we have social media technology like Facebook, Google+, etc. where you can have literally hundreds or even thousands of ‘friends’. Most of these people you still don’t know, but you feel like you do… you see their status updates and pictures, maybe chat with them, and they see yours. If one of them comes in to town – as an old high school friend of mine is doing this week – you might make arrangements to meet and catch up.
But are they in your monkeysphere? What happens to the friendship that I have with my next door neighbors now that they’re 2500 miles away? What about my friend coming into town… I haven’t seen him in over 20 years. We just reconnected via Facebook a few months ago… he was once in my monkeysphere, but I don’t believe he is now. Does he re-enter?
Perhaps we need to begin using the term ‘acquaintance’ again. People outside our monkeysphere could fall into that category. Perhaps the opposite is true; we could use a new category, perhaps called ‘close friends’ or even ‘monkeysphere’ to define the people who are closest to us. One way or the other, our definition of relationships is changing even as our world is changing, and it appears we’re going to have to change our common language culture to keep up.
Incidentally, I’m pretty bummed about my neighbors moving away. And I’m really looking forward to seeing my old friend again.