This article is inspired by Send a Card to a Friend Day, which takes place on February 7th.
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Imagine this: you open the letterbox to collect your mail, you haven’t ordered anything online, and it’s not your birthday, so you are just looking forward to bills. One of the letters catches your eye. Your name and address are handwritten.
A sparkle of joy and intrigue washes over you. You open it, and it’s a beautiful card from your friend.
They just wrote simply to tell you they are thinking of you and check-in. A smile washes over your face, and a warm glow rises in your chest.
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The art of letter-writing has mainly been lost since the rise of the digital age.
Quick texts, tweets, and story updates mass-deliver the details of our lives to close friends, family members, and acquaintances. Our culture and ways of connection have drastically changed since the rise of the internet and cellphones.
In many ways, we are able to be more connected and more communicative, but by connecting with the masses, do we lose personal connections?
What the Research Says
Despite our ability to connect with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at once, a British anthropologist, Robert Dunbar, deduced in the 1990s that groups tend to reach a maximum of150 before splitting off in different directions. Furthermore, we can only maintain five people in our tight close circle, up to 15 people in our good friend’s circle, and up to 50 people as ones we would consider friends.
Where did Dunbar get these numbers?
The original theory stems from observing the social interactions of non-human primates relative to their brain size. The studies looked at how complex social interactions the primates could handle and maintain.
The researchers then went on to study human interactions throughout history. They looked at social connections from hunter-gatherer societies to modern organizations and even people’s Christmas card list. Multiples of 5’s and the number 150 frequently arose.
There are always variables, and Dunbar’s numbers have been disputed in other studies being a social study. A person’s circle size depends on whether they are an extrovert or introvert, male or female.
Extroverts spread wider circles, while introverts focus more on their close contacts.
Also, not surprising considering our typically chattier nature, women tend to have a larger number of connections than men. Technological capabilities and social cultures can also influence these numbers.
For me, these numbers cut me some slack. As an introvert/extrovert, I have met many people and formed a lot of good friendships over the years. I’ve also had a lot of friendships slip away. Never in any malice way, just life goes on.
Sometimes I feel guilty for not keeping in closer contact, but the introvert in me can’t handle maintaining a large number of friendships sometimes; it takes a lot of work.
Realistically, how many people can you make personal connections with on a weekly or fortnightly basis? Well, according to Dunbar, 5. We’re only human, after all.
Staying Connected During COVID-19
With many people worldwide living in isolation this past year, making personal connections outside of those we live with has been more challenging.
While connecting with the outside world on social media is nice, it doesn’t offer the intimacy that coffee date with a good friend or bumping into a friend in the supermarket and stopping to chat does.
So how do we create and maintain personal connections with people from a distance?
Before the days of social media, sending letters in the mail is how friends and family who lived far from each other communicated and maintained personal relationships. There is something magical about opening your letterbox and finding out someone is thinking of you (and it’s not your birthday or Christmas).
So, why not send a card or a letter to someone you care about to make them smile and let them know that you are thinking of them?
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We would like to thank the author of this article, Adrianne Elizabeth, for designing this beautiful card!
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