What The Sims taught me about socialising

For the purposes of this article, socialising means having meaningful conversations and interactions with other people (namely friends). So what’s the trick to maintaining a fairly large network of friends while still holding meaningful conversations with all (or at least most) of them?

Hold parties. Or organise group outings. Any event that involves many people and activities that engage most of them together.

Cocktail party
[image by Yuri Arcurs]

Before I started blogging, I hang out with a handful of friends. Which seem to coincide with 4, the number of friends a male can have on Facebook.

Granted, Facebook is an online social network. The reasons cited for the number are valid though. You can know many people, and once the criteria of “having 2-way meaningful conversations” come in, the number of “real” friends drop to a low number.

This is a limit on how much information about those friends a person can hold at any one time. Who are the friends of those friends, what are their favourite foods and activities, who are the mutual friends and so on.

I did some research and there’s Reed’s Law, which states that

the utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network

and there’s Metcalfe’s Law:

the number of unique connections in a network of a number of nodes (n) can be expressed mathematically as the n(n-1)/2

Regardless of the calculations involved, they just mean the value of a network grows faster than the increase in number of people involved. A social networking site might be able to hold this information. A human can’t scale as efficiently, hence the limit.

Back in my pre-blogging days, that period of time coincided with my student days. So there wasn’t a need to actively organise group outings. Just meeting up at school would do, with a few outings outside of school here and there.

Then came working life, and the people I associated with most often were my colleagues. Thus far, the interactions were face to face, or via phone calls and messages, or email (though infrequent).

But there’s a limit to those kinds of interactions because they were one to one (or one to few). Then something lit up in my brain from thinking about the game The Sims. In the game, the same social and “physical” limits on friendships are there.

In order to maintain friendships (there’s a friendship score), a Sim has to continually interact with other Sims. By calling them on the phone. By inviting them over to the house. And yes, by holding parties and going out on group outings.

So the most efficient way is to have a bunch of friends together, and interact with them all at once. Better suggestion? Have those friends interact with each other and have fun too.

And this might be why social networking sites are so popular now. They enable people to interact with a lot of other people at a fairly frequent rate. They enable people to find other people whom they’ve never met and start conversations and build friendships. There’s still a limit to how many “real” friends one can maintain, but it’s probably higher. This has the side effect of creating a lot more friends whom one interacts with infrequently. But I guess we can live with that.

With that, I’m stopping here. Let me know what you think. You can also have meaningful conversations with me on Twitter and Facebook.

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