You Are Not a Supernetworker. (Sorry.)


About a month ago, I started writing a blog post that I never finished. It was about Dunbar’s Number, which explains a simple human limitation: we can only really care about so many people. Dunbar puts a limit on it: 150.

But thanks to Facebook and Twitter, we’re more easily connected to others than ever before. You don’t need a giant Rolodex anymore, just an active news feed and the latest version of TweetDeck. So I started wondering: I’ve got a few hundred Facebook fans and a few hundred Twitter followers. And that’s on top of my normal, Dunbar-defined circle.

I may not be a Supertasker, but could I be some sort of Supernetworker?

The résumé-deflating answer I came up with was, No, I’m not a Supernetworker, and neither are you. See, Dunbar’s theory creates circles, starting with your innermost circle of friends and expanding until you reach that outer circle of passive acquaintances.

Think of it this way: the inner circles will end up at your wedding. The outer circles might get a Christmas card (or maybe a Facebook birthday wall post). Social networking might bring you a few hundred or a few thousand additional connections, but the majority will remain in that outer circle — or beyond.

The irony is, you might engage them regularly — but you can’t really care about them on the level that Dunbar’s describing. (1)

But I was hugely impressed to see a media outlet finally discuss the ramifications of social networking on Dunbar’s Number. It came in a Guardian piece that actually asked Robin Dunbar what he thought of his number’s role in the world of social networks.

I asked Dunbar if he saw anything in the evolution of online networks to suggest that the next stage might extend our social horizons in any meaningful way.

“The question really is,” he said, “does the technology open up the quality of your social interaction to any great extent, and the answer to that question is, so far: not really.”

Exactly. But that doesn’t mean these connections are worthless. As Clay Shirky points out in the same piece:

“What these games and applications do,” he says, “is extend and churn the edges of our network, which is often how new ideas are brought into it.”

So add those friends on Facebook. Connect with others on Twitter. They probably won’t be coming to your wedding, and they might not even end up on your Christmas card list.

But if you’re smart, those fringe circles might just help you create something that your circle of 150 never would have thought of.

You don’t have to be a Supernetworker. You just have to be a good listener.

  1. The closest thing I’ve heard of to a Supernetworker is Politico’s Mike Allen — who the New York Times describes as a one-man networking machine. He engages a huge network of contacts on a regular basis. But his closest friends also apparently don’t even know where Allen lives. So I’m not sure he’s the healthiest example of a normal human.

Why I Have Clearly Not Asked for God’s Help While Blogging.

What follows is a brief thought about the nature of God. It is not a serious thought. I hope you do not find it blasphemous. — Dan

I have recently begun to consider the idea that if there a God, he is probably not very good at multitasking.

I’ll direct you to this recent study, which suggested the existence of a rare group of humans known as “supertaskers.” They’re not just capable of multitasking; they actually perform better when doing so.

About 1 in 40 — or 2.5 percent of humans — have such skills, the study found.

But these guys are the outliers. Which brought me to an unusual thought: man was created in God’s image, or so certain books suggest. But if 97.5 percent of mankind is incapable of properly multitasking, then by the transitive property, can’t we assume that God probably isn’t a very good multitasker either?

Which brings me to another thought: if God is present in every aspect of our lives — and certainly, there seem to be more than a handful of athletes who believe in God’s willingness to take part in a post pattern — how does he juggle it all if he’s so average at multitasking?

¶¶¶

I put the question to a friend of mine today. We were on the front nine of some hacker course in Austin, Texas, and my friend was working on a precision slice that usually isn’t found outside a 10-piece knife set infomercial.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said after knocking consecutive shots into the pond.

“You sure you want him here for this?” I asked.

I gave my friend the rundown. Look: God’s a busy guy. He’s trying to balance the cosmos. His divinity might not even be able to solve the matter of Inbox Zero. He doesn’t care about your short game, and he probably shouldn’t.

“So?” my friend said.

Well, let’s suppose that God spent most of his time just watching over humanity, I said. But in a very limited way, he’d take an interest in you. You’d get to choose one aspect of your life, one thing that you do regularly, and God would play a role in it. You wouldn’t be superhuman in that one thing. But you’d know that when you took on that task, you’d have a bit of divine protection.

“So God could be present on the golf course?”

Yes.

“Or when I play Facebook Scrabble?”

You’d be wasting it, but yeah, sure.

“Or in the bedroom?”

You got a girl you’re trying to impress?

And that’s when it really began.

¶¶¶

The immediate instinct, under this God-as-a-Genie-with-one-wish-to-grant concept, is to go for something big. Ask God to keep watch when you’re playing poker. Or when you’re shooting those championship-winning free throws. Or when you’re looking for luck with the ladies. Ask for one of these, and you’re asking for God to give you house money to play with in Vegas.

But then there’s a secondary thought: What if you could better use your divine intervention? I’m talking about the kind of intervention that gets tossed around at Sunday School: Dear God, help me find courage. Dear God, help me comfort the sick. Dear God, please make me sick so I can leave this sermon early.

And then there’s the last thought: What if you could take it just a little bit further? If God can’t be present in every little thing you do, why not just choose one little thing that you do every day?

What if God could be present during your rush hour commute? (Finally, a practical reason to have a “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker.) What if God could keep you engaged during those dull moments in your day? (When waiting in a dentist’s office, God could deliver the manna that is Men’s Health magazine.) What if God could help you be on time for meetings? (He might be a watchmaker anyway.) Why not ask God to be present in the kitchen? (Just smile and nod when someone tells you, “These fudge brownies are just heavenly.”)

¶¶¶

I’m not saying this theory of divine assistance is for everyone. What I am saying is this:

The next time you’re 130 yards out and deciding between a 9-iron and pitching wedge, ask yourself whether or not you really want the Almighty as your caddy. Besides, he might be able to spot a triple-word score in Facebook Scrabble that you’d never be able to see.