Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Dunbar's number

This post is prefaced by a cautionary note:

While it is true that I have a few lists of people/friends selected by one criteria or another, to the extreme amusement of the few friends I have shown them to, who can't believe I have an actual, physical, hand-written list until I show it to them, I don't believe of course that you can in reality use lists to organise your social relationships and your emotional space. Although I never managed to read the whole of Descarte's Error by Antonio Damasio because I was too lazy to try and grasp the neurology, I did get enough from it, the reviews and my friends'/family's comments to appreciate his logic that emotional interactions are too complex to attempt to determine them  with the rational part of our brain, and that intuition/chance/our subconscious/gut feelings do a much better job in telling us what to do for a specific person/in a given emotional dilemma.

But anyway lists are fun, so at least my friends who have lists of books, cds or films can't complain if I put them in my list of people, and facetious attempts to categorize and quantify people are also fun. Meaningless and dangerous if you actually try and use them to determine your actions, but fun.

So - my Dunbar's number, or what is the maximum limit of people I can meaningfully interact with socially - i.e. friends?
I don't really consider anything else than a face-to-face meeting a meaningful interaction - to the puzzlement of people who prefer to have an e-mail or skype conversation on their sofa rather than getting their ass out to a coffee-shop or bar (or city in extreme cases)equidistant to both . Why do they think that? Specially if it's bad weather, mmmm...
So say I have 150 friends (Dunbar's number) and I meet one friend once a week, that would give me meeting each friend about once every three years. Ok, obviously not enough.
If I meet one friend once a week, and have 52 friends, then I can meet each of them once a year. Still not enough. Um, not sure I can go below 52 people I would like to see again in my lifetime. Time to change another parameter.
So if I see one friend every day, and have 52 friends, that means I can see each of them every two months or more. Much better. However, you've spotted it - I do have to earn enough money to pay for my coffee/drinks, plus get enough sleep to be able to have a conversation.  So one friend a day is out.
Hmm... What if I tried meeting more than one friend at a time? I could maybe meet friends three times a week, maybe seven in a week. So would still see each of them seven times a year, and could have 52 friends.
But now you get the different categories of friends - those that accept meeting you with other friends, and those that require one-to-one time. Should I ditch all of these latter ones? They are making things very difficult, aren't they? Sadly some of my oldest friends fall into this category, and the ability to put up with me for more than ten years should give them some rights...  But maybe I can count one-to-one time as double in terms of meaningful interactions as compared to meeting in a group? So if I see these friends three to four times a year, and those who don't mind meeting in twos-threes six to seven times a year, I can still have 52 friends and see friends two-three times a week. (If my maths has broken down by now, I would thank you not to mention it, and note that I am not a sociology professor paid big bucks in research grants.)
So the big question now is: ...

Have you made it into the 52 list?

:) :) :)

Dedication: This post was inspired by trying to meet friends in the Christmas hols. Those of you who live in a city different than the one where the friends you have grown up with know what I mean.


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