I am an analytical introvert by nature, and over the last few years, I have let myself become somewhat socially isolated, partly by choice, partly by laziness, partly by circumstance. The pandemic, of course, exacerbates that condition. Even without it, though, I tend not to reach out to people to go out and do things. I do my own thing, often online, or with my family. It’s “easy” to do nothing to arrange social events when you’re an analytical introvert. It’s my default mode.
With the impact of Covid, I’ve been reading a few posts online about social connectivity, and how for many people, their network has changed over the years as they aged. At one point, it was likely their class list at school. Or a sports team they were on. Maybe later it was an address book, or perhaps an email list or contact list. But in the same vein that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and saw it expand, many people use their social media contacts as their “network” for friends. It is often a “social calendar” tool by default.
On one site, they had the equivalent of a “social connectivity” test and while it didn’t seem very scientific, and was just as likely to lead to spamming, I liked some of the ideas built into it and decided to use my FaceBook friends list as my data set to look back at my social “connectedness” in the last two years.
This isn’t a big data set as I am, as I said, an analytical introvert. I rarely “add” people as friends on Facebook lightly, and I’ve usually kept it to around 100 for most of the years I’ve used it. Recently, I’ve “let” it creep up a bit more and it nows stand at a whopping 126 people. Now, for the test of “social connectedness”, let’s triage those numbers.
If you want to play along, I recommend going to FB, clicking on your own profile, looking at your long list of FB friends, highlighting the whole list, and pasting it into an editor or email or notepad. Then, search and replace the word FRIENDS with “” (i.e., nothing) to get rid of it, and then do the same with the word “FRIEND” (they both show up twice for every entry, this just cleans things a bit). If you want to get really aggressive, you could eliminate multiple spaces and hard returns too, but not really worth it. When you’re done, you’ll have a long list of your FB friends with a bunch of extra spacing and formatting around them, but that’s okay, you’ll be editing soon enough. Alternatively, you could just go through the categories below to see the types of people you “eliminate”, and then just count the ones who still fit, just a lot harder to do that mentally.
A. Eliminate family members
Your family may be wonderful people, you may even be friends with them, but they are not “friends” in the normal sense. So they don’t “count” towards your social node total.
For me, twenty-eight people on the FB list are family. I see them sporadically, stay in touch, but for “my side” of the family, I usually see them once or maybe twice a year. I have a brother who I actually like (not all family members like each other, you know, it’s not a law) and he lives in town, but I still only see him maybe once or twice a year. I do better on Andrea’s side of the family, but there is a family cottage that everyone goes to regularly so it’s easier to see them then. Regardless, I have to take them off the potential “nodes” list.
B. Eliminate work-only friends
The research is mixed on this area, as many people’s identity is tied to their workplace and the people who are part of their crew. Teammates. Except it is a giant red flag for most social psychologists, not as definitively bad, but as an area that has to be triaged ruthlessly.
If they are “work friends” and you don’t do anything outside of work with them (no common hobbies, get-togethers, outings, online gaming, whatever), then they don’t count. Going for beers after work doesn’t count either if it was the whole team. And just to be really BRUTAL, you have to also eliminate anyone where you only see them in an “activity” context like church or volunteering, and you never do anything with them outside that context (it is just replacing work with non-paid work or a community friend). Same with sports teams. If you don’t socialize with them separately, and after game drinks doesn’t count, then they’re off. The one exception is if it is a friend who you joined that activity with i.e. you and a friend joined a book club, or a sports team, and so that is your “outing” together. You can still count them.
For me, this is a brutal purge. Thirty-five people on my list are “work friends” or “community friends” and while I like them enough to overcome my normal desire to keep my FB list small (hehehe), I’ve never done anything outside of work or that community with them. Maybe lunch at work. At most, we’ve chatted online occasionally. Just no real connection to trigger getting together except work or the community event, I suppose.
C. Eliminate accounts that are inactive, celebrities, commercial accounts, or internet-only friends
I thought this one seemed like a strange category until I started to read through some of the examples. And realized that I do have some.
Three of them are legacy FB accounts for friends who have died. Just the other day, I posted on one for her birthday, just noting for her family that I miss my friend. I didn’t know her real well, we met online a long time ago playing trivia. I never met her in person although I did meet her daughter once. Still miss her.
Ten more are various kinds of internet friends or friends of friends who I’ve met online for various personal and professional reasons, but I’ve never “done” anything with them. Most of them I’ve never even met. Another fourteen are people I met in person and whom I regularly interact with online, but I probably won’t see them anytime soon. We’re basically internet buddies, but that is about it, perhaps by mutual neglect. We’re friendly, hard to say we’re the type who do things together. Another three or so were commercial-style accounts of writers that I follow.
D. Eliminate any accounts of friends who do not live in the same city
Before you freak out to say, “But they’re my best friends!”, you are allowed to keep them in your “social bubble” for the test, but only if they can pass an extra test. Have you seen them in-person in the last two years? Doesn’t matter why not, doesn’t matter if they moved to Timbuktu, they are basically people you cannot call up on a moment’s notice and do something with, nor have you scheduled anything with them recently. You may reconnect, you may connect every four years, you may see them at reunions or funerals, but they don’t count for the test.
Well, crap. I have twenty-one people that we used to do stuff with who have all moved out of Ottawa in recent years, either temporarily or permanent, or they just simply live in other cities already. Some of them I would see if they lived in town, they were close enough friends that they were at our small wedding, but I haven’t seen them in person in the last two years. Sigh.
E. Triage what remains
The theory is that what remains is your “core” group of friends. They are not ALL automatically in your social connectedness bubble, they’re just your core group of likely nodes.
The second last triage is to first group any of them who are “couples”. If you regularly see them separately, you can count them separately, but if you almost always see them together, it is a single “social node”.
And the final triage? Similarly to D above, you eliminate ANYONE that you haven’t done something social with in the last two years. In-person. Not just a phone call, you actually have to have seen them in-person. If you want to adjust for COVID, go back 27 months. And sorry, major group events like weddings and funerals DO NOT COUNT. Group parties where you saw 20 people DO NOT COUNT. Or at least, they count, but only for 1 node (perhaps a couple).
F. Count how many nodes you have left
For me, it leaves about nine people in total, not including a few spouses that I’m not friends with on FB, and about 7-8 nodes. All of them I have seen in the last two years and actually did something with them. Most of the time it was meal-related, admittedly, but I’ll lie to myself and say that is purely to ease scheduling, everyone has to eat.
But you know what? I’m surprised it is that high. My original estimate was about four to five. When I analyse it more closely, I see why. 4-5 of the nodes are “me” nodes, and 4-5 are “inherited” nodes from my wife’s nodes. I get an extra little “bump” in my numbers by being married to someone more social than I.
If I am converting categories correctly, the normal scale is:
- Analytical introverts (“blues”) –> 1-5 nodes;
- Intuitive introverts (“greens”) –> 5-10 nodes (although if they count family, it often goes to 15, and longer duration interactions);
- Analytical extroverts (“reds”) –> 10-20 nodes (they lose a lot in the work/community-only friends list);
- Intuitive extroverts (“yellows”) –> 25+ per year (although many encounters are short, like coffee dates);
I have no idea if that list has any accuracy whatsoever. It’s using several sources together, not any one “pure” test. But I like the fact it is giving ranges for the types, not saying “everyone should have 22 nodes”. It recognizes that blues tend to have few, but that’s okay. If they have too many, they might get stressed, if they have too few, they’re isolated. Greens might be stressed if they only have 2-3 or more than 10; similarly for reds. Yellows can get depressed if they drop below 20. They just don’t get the positive energy to keep going, apparently. There is obviously more to it than that, since you could have 3 nodes that you have seen 20 times each this year or you could have 3 nodes you only saw once each in the last two years, averaging 8 months between interactions…a very different dynamic. I do tend to hibernate over the winter.
But I find the idea interesting as I near retirement, and that is often the source of the articles (helping people plan for retirement). Because many of those other categories will fall away, leaving your immediate social nodes.
I’m happy to see that all of my “core nodes” will indeed survive retirement. But I also need to nurture them too, to be grateful they are in my life, and the time we share.