Thirty years ago, you knew by heart the phone numbers of your family members and closest friends. For those that weren’t members of your innermost social circle, you had their names and numbers organized in your address book, or you’d look them up in the phonebook. If a friend had news to share, they’d call you up and deliver it personally. If they needed help, they would come to you and ask for it. (If my idea of the lives of adults thirty years ago isn’t spot on, forgive me. Thirty years ago I was spending a lot of my time figuring out how to use the potty, so I may have missed a few things.)
Technology has changed this for us.
Believe me, I am pro-technology. I am also pro-social media. I love being able to keep up with the lives of all my friends, near and far. I love getting to cheer their wins and sympathize with their losses. This post’s purpose is neither a condemnation nor a celebration of the things social media has done for us, but rather, a question.
Should we know so much about so many people?
Say, for example, you are scrolling through your news feed and come across a post from an old classmate, someone with whom you didn’t have many conversations or social interactions, someone you haven’t seen in at least 15 years, but you remember them being nice. This acquaintance is sharing sad news. Perhaps it is the loss of a beloved family pet, or a difficult diagnosis for an extended family member. Your heart aches for them. You hit the “Care” react, comment to share kind words, and maybe donate a few dollars to a GoFundMe.
On the one hand, isn’t it so beautiful that all our hearts are growing so exponentially? Our capacity for empathy and kindness toward one another has reached an enormity unforeseen in previous decades. It is truly inspiring to learn how much we can feel for others without being physically or even emotionally close to them.
But on the other hand,
How much is too much?
How much ache for others can our hearts carry at once, while still having room for our own joy, peace, and contentment? Social scientists refer to Dunbar’s Number, formulated by anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, which suggests that cognitively, we are not able to maintain stable personal relationships with more than about 150 people. How do we maintain our own mental and emotional stability while constantly being made aware of the innermost private details of the lives of hundreds of acquaintances? I will never stand in opposition of kindness and empathy. I am only asking how much of the lives of others we, as human beings, are equipped to hold in our minds and hearts at all times?
I do not know the answer to this question.
I will most certainly continue to pray and hold space for everyone that I possibly can, and I hope I don’t ever find that there is a limit. I will also allow space for myself away from the newsfeeds, cultivating the genuine close relationships in my physical world. I suppose all we can do is try to find that balance.