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Cast your mind back to your school years. Popularity was very much determined by the number of friends’ names you had scrawled on your pencil case and the size of your playground clique. Those days are gone now, aren’t they? Sadly not. Social media is the new playground in which we flaunt our friendships, and with last year’s trend that saw Twitter users paying for followers, it seems that popularity is still very much at the forefront of people’s minds.

How many friends do you have on Facebook? I use the term ‘friend’ loosely. Personally, I have 1,986 Facebook friends, or acquaintances, if I can even call them that. I’d say I’ve never met over half of them and probably never will. Just as is revealed in an Oxford University study released today, despite my near 2,000 Facebook friends and 382 Twitter followers, I can count my close friends on my fingers.

The study, which explores human communication in the internet ages, found that despite numbers of social network contacts growing by the day, people have a unique ‘social signature’ which they maintain throughout their lives by losing touch with old friends as new ones are made. That way, the overall size of their inner circle remains surprisingly constant.

Dr. Felix Reed-Tsochas tracked the mobile phone and social media records of 24 students over 18 months as they made the transition either from school to university, or from university to work – two periods when they are most likely to meet people and make new friends. As predicted, despite the heightened social pressure of these times, students’ regular contact remained with a select few individuals.

I for one think this is rather sweet. Despite the ease in which we’re now able to meet new people and make new friends online, our close relationships remain just that. Social media is a huge part of my personal and professional life but after reading this, a good cleansing of my Facebook friends is now firmly on my January detox agenda!