# How many people does an average person encounter in a given day?January 15, 2013 8:01 PM   Subscribe

How many people does an average person encounter in a given day?

I realize this can vary greatly, but I've found plenty of numbers for average amount of advertisements seen in a day, which is just as greatly varying. I haven't yet found any numbers on how many people an average person (in America) sees in a given day. I realize there will be a sizable margin of error, but I'm looking for a decent ballpark number.

It's fine if these are the same people day after day, I'm looking for an average total.

posted by daboo to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Define "encounter."
posted by smoq at 8:06 PM on January 15, 2013

Seems the answer to this question is highly context dependent - your average NYer probably encounters more people on their morning subway ride downtown than your average North Dakota farmer encounters in a whole week. But which of these two people is closer to your average person?
posted by charlemangy at 8:24 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

smoq: Good point. I'm probably using a more loose definition of that word than most people would.

I think the minimum requirement is being able to recall something about a person. Conversation or other transaction isn't necessary, but if your eyes meet with someone you're passing on a sidewalk, and you notice their shirt (or something similar), that would count. Noticing someone across a room, or them registering in your mind somehow, counts as an encounter.

charlemangy: I agree completely, and while there many not actually be a person who lives out the average daily encounters (because they're at one or another extreme), I'm sure it can be quantified, at least very roughly.
posted by daboo at 8:27 PM on January 15, 2013

Social scientists study this stuff, publish peer-reviewed papers, and so on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_interaction

Here's the first book I found via google scholar.

If you want a number that actually has meaning, you'll need a better definition of "encounter" and what group(s) you're privileging as normal or average. Also, you might want the median, or mode, or something.

and you notice their shirt (or something similar), that would count

I people-watch in coffee-shops, and notice clothing, but often avoid eye-contact, because I'm a seedy stalker draw folk in a sketchbook. I also chat a bit with the servers at the coffee shop, but don't talk to the homeless folk nearby, even when I drop a loonie in their hat, beyond wishing them good luck.

-----------------------------------

I believe there's some research or ev-psych hand-waving about how we only keep track of 150 people, or something. The idea has then passed on into popular culture, and gotten dumbed down, or used to sell a popular big-idea/overgeneralization book.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:38 PM on January 15, 2013

I think the minimum requirement is being able to recall something about a person. Conversation or other transaction isn't necessary, but if your eyes meet with someone you're passing on a sidewalk, and you notice their shirt (or something similar), that would count. Noticing someone across a room, or them registering in your mind somehow, counts as an encounter.

Well, this might be difficult, as well. I live in New York. I only went out once today, but saw hundreds of people. But I probably actively paid attention to fewer than I do when I visit my hometown in Alabama, where I see far fewer people, but pay attention to a significantly larger proportion.

I'm not sure if this kind of encounter is really measurable.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:43 PM on January 15, 2013

I think a good parallel to what I'm trying to express by encounter is a term used in the advertising world: impression.

How many people make an impression on a given person on a given day? Perhaps a percentage is more realistic?
posted by daboo at 8:56 PM on January 15, 2013

"Impression" as used in advertising isn't the same thing as making an impression on a person. It just means the ad was displayed, if you want a parallel for people it would be something along the lines of how many people one has had the opportunity to see.
posted by yohko at 9:25 PM on January 15, 2013

How many people make an impression on a given person on a given day?

Your definition for impression lacks rigor.

Try quantifying it. "Could remember (seeing them/ reading their text / favoriting their comment) 5 minutes later."

Perhaps a percentage is more realistic?
Also doable, if you encode some form of quantification into your definition.

People do research this stuff. Wire up undergraduates to machines. Make undergraduate psych students fill out scantrons and do interviews about how many sexual partners they had / people they talked to today. Or they point computers at huge corpuses of text/interaction, like the Enron email dump, OKcupid quant-flavored research, etc. And they argue over whether or not the numbers mean something.

And they argue about whether the numbers / conclusions they have from studying psych students extrapolates to some fellow in an office job or some women in an undeveloped country. Such meta/context stuff may be in this random intro textbook.

They also have jargon, like microinteraction.

Disputes over the conduct of investigating social interaction relate to the core debates in sociology and the other social sciences: positivism (quantitative research) against antipositivism (qualitative research), etc.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_interaction

Also, define "given person". 3rd grader? Blogger wearing a video camera for the day? Random member of an idealized 100,000 soul city?

Also, consider that the microinteractions amongs people in this 100,000 city soul may not be gaussian - could be a power law or something.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:52 PM on January 15, 2013

Why do you want to know? Maybe that will help us give you a more accurate answer.

I mean, today I have interacted with only two people in person - my housemate and my partner - because I haven't needed to leave the house. But I work in retail, so on a work day my encounter list (by your first definition - remember one or two things about them) goes up to a few dozen, maybe as high as a hundred if I have a busy day at work and forget my book on the bus.
posted by Jilder at 4:15 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This question is impossible to answer without a much more precise definition of its terms. What do you mean by "encounter"? I live in New York City and walk past hundreds of people per day. Does each person who I pass on a given day constitute an encounter? If so, then the number of people I encounter on a daily basis skews the distribution. Given that millions of other people in NYC also walk past hundreds of people per day, that set of people's daily encounters will skew your numbers.

Or, do encounters constitute people to whom I speak? Well, I work in sales, my numbers will be higher than a shut-in's.

Or, do encounters constitute people with whom I have an intimate relationship? And what is meant by "intimate relationship"?

Etc.
posted by dfriedman at 4:32 AM on January 16, 2013

Fair enough. I was thinking perhaps there would be something out there, but it looks like it's too difficult to quantify. Thanks for entertaining my question.
posted by daboo at 7:08 AM on January 16, 2013

This reminds me of this youtube clip: I'd describe giving someone directions as an encounter, however the directors don't seem to recall who the directee was when they've disappeared for 2 seconds and reappeared.

Sorry to add to the 'this is problematic' responses rather than answering the question.
posted by Gomoryhu at 8:40 AM on January 16, 2013

I was thinking perhaps there would be something out there, but it looks like it's too difficult to quantify.

I suspect social scientists have studied this. But they look at specific groups of people. And they categorize and quantify interactions.

So you'd have a study of number of texts between teens, or oral sex acts among busy finance executives, or incidence rate and context of code switching in oral histories, etc.

But to go from those disparate studies to a generic "encounter" is difficult. And may lack meaning.

I mean here, stonewalling each other is an interaction:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/13/mexico-language-ayapaneco-dying-out
The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it's at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other's company.

"They don't have a lot in common," says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be "a little prickly" and Velazquez, who is "more stoic," rarely likes to leave his home.
...

posted by sebastienbailard at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2013