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The Friendship Algorithm

Friendship algorithm
Sheldon's Friendship Algorithm (Image by MnGyver via Flickr)

This topic suggestion, How many friends can a person have?, is from The Daily Post as part of the Post-a-day writing challenge.

One of my favourite shows is The Big Bang Theory. In one episode, The Friendship Algorithm, Sheldon creates an algorithm that can help him create a new friend. You can watch the algorithm on YouTube (embedding disabled).

As part of this process, Sheldon befriends Barry Kripke and as such has to decide which of his friends he has to cut – Raj being the (un)lucky recipient. His reasoning (from memory, couldn’t find this part on YouTube) is that he can only maintain a particular number of friendships, and with the new friendship of Kripke, one friend must go. (This is obviously not an issue later when Sheldon befriends Amy Farrah Fowler).

While Sheldon’s process may be at the same time complicated and simplistic, it does has a basis in fact. There is a certain number of relationships that a person can sustain, and you’ve got different levels of relationships that will be maintained.

It’s kind of like the Google+ circles. You’ve got your close friends, the ones you share everything with. Then there are friends, and then acquaintances. You will obviously spend more time with your close friends than your friends, and more time with your friends than your acquaintances. All the same, you need to be able to spend some time with acquaintances to ensure that the relationship is there should you need to contact them for anything.

How many that number is I think depends on who you are. For Sheldon, it was 4(/5). According to Dunbar’s number, it’s 100 to 250. I haven’t really thought to count mine, but I’d guess I’m somewhere in the middle, probably leaning to the higher side.

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