March 6, 2021

How many people will you end up knowing in your whole life? Very little | Technology

In the world there are more than 7,500 million people. In the European Union there are more than 500 million. In Latin America, more than 600. In Madrid live 3.1 million; in Buenos Aires, 2,8; in Barcelona, ​​1.6. However, in 60 years of adult life our limited cognitive capacity will only allow us to cross with as many people as there are in Becerril de la Sierra (Madrid), Alcudia de Crespins (Valencia) or Cacabelos (León): about 5,000.

Our ability to intimately understand the motivations of different people is ridiculous

Social networks, technology and ease of movement give the feeling that we have the world in our hands. But it's just a sensation. The number of people with whom we will maintain a contact that can range from a couple of conversations – a plumber – to our partner is reduced. That group includes all the people likely to live with you, to appear in your life or to influence your decisions: family members, teachers, colleagues, friends and all our direct experience. Our ability to understand intimately the motivations of different people is ridiculous. It hardly exists.

Maybe some people think it can not be. It is true that there are special beings able to meet many more people: maybe 10,000 or more. Or people with offices that lead to more contacts: only in the journalist's agenda there can be thousands of contacts. The number is in fact a median. "But what is clear is that this figure is not 1 million, not even 50,000," says Esteban Moro, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, at the Carlos III University and Author of numerous works on networks.

How many people will you end up knowing in your whole life? Very little

But it is important to bear in mind that there will also be many people whose number is less than 5,000. "If we think that 5,000 people in 60 years are about 2 people every 10 days, I do not think it's such a small number," says Giovanna Miritello, today Lead Data Scientist at Vodafone UK, and co-author with Moro of the work that They got that number.

How can this number be calculated? Miritello and Moro worked with phone calls. The two researchers had access to an exceptional database of calls and sms between 20 million people of Telefónica in the United Kingdom in the years 2009 and 2010. "It was the largest database of calls continued in time." Almost a year It allowed us to study how call patterns changed, "says Moro.

How many people will you end up knowing in your whole life? Very little

"First we established a methodology that would allow us to determine when a social relationship is activated or deactivated," explains Miritello. "If we look at a time window for each user we are able to measure three things: relationships that did not exist before, relationships that will not be observed in the future and relationships that persist both before and after that time window," he adds.

They found something fascinating: the number is fixed. His intention was to see how each person handled Dunbar's number: the 150 relationships that an individual can maintain at the same time successfully. We have a mental budget where there is a fixed number of people: if two enter, two must leave. The researchers proved that this number is constant, but that each person manages it in a different way. "There are those who change it every year (explorers) and who changed it very little (conservatives), we have repeated it in other countries with calls, with email, with social networks," says Moro. And the average remains.

We have a mental budget where there is a fixed number of people: if two people enter, they have to leave two

Miritello and Moro also looked at how much people interacted on Twitter and the results were similar. Moro also made a game with his email. He downloaded his entire record and kept the record, despite having moved from Madrid to Boston. "How many people can I have met in a semester in Oxford? 60?" Asks Moro to put the figure in perspective. There was only one event in Moro's life that had reduced somewhat the pace of people he knew each year: achieving a fixed position in the university. It is less obligatory to cultivate relationships if your income is guaranteed. There is a second clear trend for our acquaintances: the more years, the fewer new relationships.

None of this is so strange. At the recent wedding of Pilar Rubio and Sergio Ramos were less than 500 people. And there were two people choosing all the people who wanted their past: not even 500 left. The people we know in our lives is one third of the people who cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day or who fit on a piece of stairs of the Santiago Bernabéu.

But it is not the worst that few people surround us throughout our lives. It's worse how they are.

We surround ourselves with equal people

The 5,000 people are only the beginning of our limitations. Moro has built on two other works that offer more details about the limitation of our social life. With mobile data in cities in the United States, Moro has measured how many people we cross-without speaking, although with options to do so-over the course of a year, how many faces we see for a while: in bars, classrooms, gyms, cinemas, demonstrations, churches. You get 5,000 annually. We will see them pass by our side, once, twice, and now. Only with a small handful of those will we talk.

But this is not the most significant finding of Moro's latest research. Thanks to cross phone data with census, Moro has been able to see what is the income of people with whom we share spaces daily. It turns out that it is similar to us: we live segregated. This is something that intuition already detects: the rich live in wealthy neighborhoods, eat in expensive restaurants and work in offices where they pay well. But see how little dots move around a city according to its color it is another level of evidence.

From that set of clones will come friends and all couples that someone ends up having

We choose the places where we live and where we are going to eat or vacation because they are segregated in favor of people like us. From that set of clones will be the friends and all the couples that someone ends up having.

To our cognitive limitations other physical ones are added. In the works of a famous expert in networks, Laszlo Barabasi, we see how we spend 75% of our daily time in only three places. The options of getting out of our tiny bubbles are so ridiculous that they are also constrained by mobility. "You do not go to all the places you would like to go to your city, the number of opportunities to meet people in a city is also very limited because the number of places you go is also very limited," says Moro.

This almost natural segregation has consequences: how are we going to know what they are like, what do people think that does not look like us if we do not even meet them? It's no longer that we do not talk to them. It is that we do not know what face they have or of course how are their houses, their problems or desires.

Cities seem to be huge meeting places. And they are. But very limited by our human incapacity. "5,000 people in a lifetime is a good amount, it allows you to have a family, one is happy, it allows a lot of things, but if we add to that limitation that we make them look like us, they live where we are, that makes our society suffer, because we have problems of inequality, we must be aware that everything we do in our life impacts on that, if you like a type of gym or work, it will impact the people you know, "says Moro. How do you get out of that bubble?

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