From the minute you wake up to your last conscious breath before sleep, you’re expected to communicate with the people around you.
Today, you’re not only expected to communicate with those around you but also with those far away as if they were close.
Increased internet connectivity has caused an expectation to be responsive even when you’re ‘offline.’
In the not too distant past, the number of people one would interact with on a daily basis was geographically constrained.
It’s possible there were a few family members who decided to move out of the village or town you lived in but it was rare and offline communication was infrequent.
The constraints that don’t exist anymore in relation to keeping in touch with a friend, family, or business acquaintance: geography, time to send a letter, the number of people in different locations, inaccessibility to telecommunication technology.
Today, as a ‘global citizen,’ I have friends in geographies I have yet to go to and ubiquitous telecommunication access that is close to instant.
As I thought about this, a few questions came to mind:
- How does instant communication change the expectations to communicate in romantic, familial, and business relationships?
- Do we need to be in constant contact with one another?
- Are we only in constant contact because we can now?
If we take a bottom-up approach of thinking through this, we need to first start with Dunbar’s Number:
Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.
By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships.Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar”.Coined by Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist in the 1990s
In my lifespan, I only have the capacity to willingly build and maintain relationships with 150 people. Dunbar came up with this number before the ubiquitous availability of instant communication. I wonder how if it would change today.
Today, it almost feels like those 150 people are constantly trying to speak with me to stay on top of what I’m doing. There’s no break. There’s an expectation that just because I can respond I should.
I’ve been fortunate to have friends and family who’ve cut me slack. I often don’t respond to messages that I don’t have the energy for in a given moment. I’m not always accessible because I’m busy living outside of my digital screen.
I’ve made a conscious effort to move out of my digital screen and would recommend that you do the same.
Like all posts, this post is a draft. Avoid technical mistakes. I will continually edit this post depending on the feedback I get.