Old Philosophies, New Technology Part 2

Freud remarked that since the invention of the first tool, we humans have extended the functions of our own organs to the point that we’ve become “prosthetic gods”. Motor power extends our muscular abilities while modern transport lets us travel around the globe. Telescopes and microscopes extend our vision while photography and recording devices extend our memory of a fleeting visual or audio event.

So what about the shiny new tool of the present, social media? Does it extend the depth and breadth of our ability to relate to one another. Well…no but yes. The oft-quoted Dunbar number states that the average person can maintain stable social relationships with 150 people. Facebook’s in-house sociologist seems to confirm Dunbar’s theory, the average Facebook member has 120 friends.

Give it a few years and I bet that number grows significantly. When Facebook first opened to the public everyone’s first instinct was to find all their old friends. Once a sizeable number of the old gang from high school, university, camp, etc. was reconnected our networks didn’t grow as fast and we slowly started adding people we met in real life. But we were scrambling. The kids are just starting. As they move from elementary school, to junior high, to high school, university, and beyond they will keep their old networks intact. Will childhood friendships last longer?

Maybe not, but the ability to call up old friends, flames, and acquaintences is much easier now. So our prosthetic godliness has gotten better. Whereas photography and recording devices extended our memory of a fleeting event, the multimedia lifestream that is social media extends our memory and lets us keep tabs on all the people we meet.

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