We as humans don’t do Big very well and it seems that current and past research bares this out. This article presents a few of the reasons why this is true.

The other day, I read a short article by Clive Thompson entitled “In Praise of Obscurity” in the February 2010 issue of Wired magazine. In the article, Thompson talks about how socializing doesn’t appear to scale. He highlights Maureen Evans, a grad student and poet, who built an active twitter following by tweeting recipes condensed down to 140 characters. Her social network grew into a very active community – a large but close knit group of twitter-ers engaged in many conversations. But then as her followers increased, she recounts that the sense of community died when her social network got up to around 13,000 followers. People just stopped talking to each other and stopped talking to her apparently.
It appears that when a social network grows too large, people start to feel estranged and that their contributions to the community are not useful anymore and so the conversation stops. In addition, when there is a large community, people tend to self-censor their remarks adding to that lost sense of community. So that is the phenomena that Thompson was referring to when he wrote that socializing doesn’t appear to scale.

So we do have a maximum capacity of how large a group of people we can handle at any given time.  And the article goes on to site areas other areas where this is shown to be true.

And of course there are examples of this Social Channel Capacity. In combat military organizations, the hierarchy is often setup so that any functional fighting group is less than 200 people to maximize cohesion and effictiveness. The average village size of many hunter-gatherer tribes around the world is around 150. The Hutterites, a religious group, strictly maintains a population of 150 because they have found that this is the most effective number of people to function as a group. I’ve also seen some analysis of online gaming guild sizes and they tend to max out at around 150.
A modern example is found in the company, Gore Associates, who created the water-proof outdoor fabric, Gore-tex. When the number of employees reaches to about 150 people, they split it off as its own functional division. In fact, they only buy buildings that can comfortably accommodate 150 people with 150 parking spaces. And with this business practice, they are a successful multi-million high-tech company and they’ve won many “best place to work” awards.

So the magic number is 150. Of course YMMV since with humans nothing is set in stone and others may have a higher/lower capacity. Which kind of bring me to the topic of this post.  A couple of us were chatting the other night about communities and communes and such. I do not like the term commune or even community much. Oh the idea is just fine but personally I do not think it practical to form a commune as such and the term community is over used and to vague. I much prefer the term neighborhood but used in the more traditional sense. Like Mister Rogers. (Please not to many chuckles here)

The more colloquial definition. It can mean street or road or a couple of blocks etc. Where I lived in Ohio, in the country was a neighborhood. On our road and the road that intersected it, we knew nearly everyone and they knew us. The kids played together and the parents knew each other and everyone knew what was going on. And people more or less helped each other out when needed. And when something was not quite right, people were concerned.  There was a Village of Burton Ohio – we lived in the township. It was not and still is not very big but had different neighborhoods. Where my grand parents lived was kind of a suburb.  Suburbs don’t lend them selves to neighborhoods for some reason. We knew the kids there and played with them but the families not so much.

Where my aunt and uncle on my fathers side lived in Cleveland was a neighborhood. It had a market a little over a block away, the kind with a meat counter and fresh produce. Further down, at the end of the street was a Woolworth 5 and Dime and a bit further was a drug store with a soda fountain. Neighborhoods were kind of self contained. You generally did not have to venture far to get what you needed.  Most people were from the same or similar backgrounds. Like most neighborhoods, the people there were blue collar workers of one type or another.

I miss neighborhoods. They were generally a lot more friendly. I think we need to bring them back.


5 thoughts on “Neighborhoods

  1. I had to get that first bit out of my system C. Please excuse me for venting.

    Yes. I believe this premise is accurate. I don’t truly know the reason but I suspect that it has a lot to do with our natural limitations. We haven’t the means to communicate and keep it all straight with too vast a number of persons at once. We may want to but it can’t be done. Even with all our fancy electronics and Internet it’s futile to try.

    Would we want to though? Assuming the conversation is about social features of our lives it may not be necessary. Whoever decides how things run, all they would have to do is find the mean and take that path. If we could query everyone we would find ourselves with that same answer. A mean point which everyone necessarily has to be satisfied with. Numerically it is very certain we really have no alternative. The more people you add to the query the greater is the certainty the collective will represent the mean.

    And yes, we’re pursuing a different one than that. But what we should be doing, what is ethical and logical, doesn’t account for persons who don’t possess nor care for either.

  2. cmaukonen

    You know…the upper crust don’t live in neighborhoods. Oh they have their gated communities with golf courses and such. But you are unlikely to see block parties there. When people do interact, it’s usually about what kind of crab grass they have in their lawns. They have Home Owners Associations which are generally gripe sessions about each other.

    Condos and Apartment complexes don’t have neighborhoods either. You are lucky if you know two of the people in you building let alone the complex.

    I think our moneyed up, Busy-back-soon life styles kept have caused us to become estranged of each other with only superficial relationships at best.

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