Strength of Ties

June 25, 2011

Yes, I have noticed your recent activity on LinkedIn; it looks like you have exceeded Dunbar’s number of 150, which is said to be the typical maximum number of people with whom one can maintain a meaningful relationship.  It is also said that the number of people that someone can typically put a name to a face to is 1500, so you are getting into weak ties territory.  Dunbar’s argument is based on the premise (established through various experiments) that friendships decay within six months unless nurtured, but I wonder if that is really the case.  Somehow, I have this feeling that if relationships are strong when initially formed, then they can last a very long time without much contact at all.  Of course it is hard to know.

As you know, it has not been my tradition to initiate friend requests on social networking sites, whether Facebook or LinkedIn or what have you, though I do accept them.  I know at least a few more people like me, who do not initiate friend requests, but do accept friend requests.  I wonder if there is some interesting mathematical question related to graph connectivity governed by the fraction of people that are like me: some sort of phase transition?  Perhaps in a similar vein, percolation theory has been used to study the spread of disease and the effects of immunization on epidemics.  

One rather old piece of work related to percolation theory as applied to communication networks that I have found to be quite interesting is the doctoral thesis of Irwin Jacobs.  I even quote from it to open my Channels That Die paper, which was recently submitted and posted to arXiv.  Everyone’s favorite story about Irwin Jacobs is how he started out in the Hotel School at Cornell before switching over to the School of Electrical Engineering, our alma mater.  In something of a reversal, one of my papers, Coordinating Global Service Delivery in the Presence of Uncertainty, will be in the proceedings of the 12th International Research Symposium on Service Excellence in Management, which was hosted by the Hotel School a few weeks ago.  Incidentally, do you know what happened to Joel West and his book?

That is very interesting what you say about dissociating people from words.  I hope the words aren’t just put in a bag, but that higher level thoughts are preserved, though it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case. 

One of the most brilliant pieces on sports/culture/technology that I have seen in a long time was just written by Chuck Klosterman, all about dissociating space and time through technology.  I think it is even more brilliant than the work of Landecker on the same subject but with regards to life rather than sports: what do you think?  Also, if we keep using the word dissociation, will it suddenly be picked up by marketers?

dissociation, dissociation, dissociation
dissociation, dissociation, dissociation
dissociation, dissociation, dissociation



  1. […] Ashvins The Ultimate Machinists « Strength of Ties Nobody Goes There Anymore. It’s Too Crowded. July 6, […]

  2. […] Dissociation has been a long-running theme of this blog, and it seems that dissociative technologies can be particularly disruptive to extant social systems.  The Supreme Court has of course been busy with other things recently, but they also listened to arguments about legal questions that essentially arise due to the dissociation of time and space in life.  Very interesting indeed. […]

  3. […] be organic, it seems prudent to follow a good number of people on Twitter.  But something like Dunbar’s number must surely come into play.  There is a fairly new paper by Dunbar and several others out that […]

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