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Virtual Tribalism Continued - A Virtual Facebook tribe

By ITS Education Asia

In my blog titled “Virtual Tribalism – “The Medium is the Message” I started a discussion of social media and social networking. I introduced Robin Dunbar, famous for Dunbar’s numbers. Dunbar had used Neocortex size to accurately predicted the group size of thirty five monkey and ape species. He then used the same technique to predict the size of a personal social group of humans. To verify the number he examined hunter gatherer societies, past and present. There were several groups sizes defined by Dunbar’s research.

  • Core group – up to 5 people
  • Close Group – around 15 people
  • Acquaintance Group – around 50 people
  • Personal Social Group – around 150 people (typical size of a human small village though out the ages)
  • Clan or similar organisation entity around 450 to 500 people (a cohesive sub tribal unit)
  • Tribal Group around 1,500 to 2,000 people (a tribe)

An interesting article titled Don’t Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends makes a case for the number of 150. The Facebook allows for 5,000 friends, far more than the 150 prediction by Dunbar for a Personal Social Group. Perhaps there is a way to apply all of Dunbar’s numbers to Facebook. We could categorize Facebook friends as we “friend” a person, depending on how close they are to us, they become an online entity of a “personal virtual tribe” in one of the following categorizes:

  • Best Friends Forever (BFF) around 1 to 5 friends
  • Best Friends 6 to 15 friends
  • Close Friends 16 to 50 friends
  • Friends 51 to 150 friends (virtual village)
  • Potential Friends 151 to 750 friends (virtual Clan)
  • Acknowledged virtual tribal people 751 to 1,500 > friends (virtual tribe)

For our closest primate relatives (bonobos and chimpanzees), social relationships are maintained by grooming each other in “grooming circles”.  Contact time is the humans version of grooming behavior.  A Facebook human equivalent would be a virtual grooming circle getting together on Facebook to chat, post internet memes etc. Social media has allowed us to “groom” from afar; we still keep in touch with family and friends and make new virtual friends. so human grooming behavior has remained constant.

A further sort of related thought raised from above! Since Dunbar started his research on monkeys and apes, can we get clues to our primal behavior from the two closest relatives from the animal kingdom?  The website Bonobos and Chimpanzees states that we share close to 99% of their genome in common. The site states:

“Chimpanzees are male dominant, with intense aggression between different groups that can be lethal. Chimpanzees use tools, cooperatively hunt monkeys, and will even eat the infants of other chimpanzee groups.”

“Bonobos are female dominant, with females forming tight bonds against males through same-sex socio-sexual contact that is thought to limit aggression. In the wild, they have not been seen to cooperatively hunt, use tools, or exhibit lethal aggression.”

There is even a scientific argument that bonobos and chimpanzees should be on the same family tree genus as humans. Even though the DNA of us and the two great apes is almost identical our social structures very different.

In an article titled “warfare may explain differences in social structures in Chimpanzees and Bonobos”, it is explained that there are very different forms of social structure and cooperation in bonobos and chimpanzees. Basically, chimpanzee are very territorial and lead by Alpha males and males need to cooperate with each other when it comes to activities like territory borders patrolling, territory defense and joint hunting, and conflicts are handled by aggression. Also, all Chimpanzee communities are sexually segregated, meaning that males and females associated more with same sex partners.

Bonobo males are less territorial and associate mainly with females, most often their mothers. Aggression is mediated by sex. When a male cooperates with his mother, she helps to increase her sons’ mating success. The females of both species cooperate with each other when it comes to raising their young.

Are we starting to move from a social structure similar to a chimpanzee social structure to a social structure similar to a bonobo social structure?

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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