Isn’t it the way? A fortnight ago I’d never heard of Dunbar’s Number “the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”. Now I keep tripping over it.
I’m discovering its nuances…
Dunbar’s Number likes routine. Becoming familiar with its characteristics I realise I encounter Dunbar’s Number daily during morning walks around Sydney Park . I’ve been taking the same route at the same time for over a year now. Walking and blogging are twin habits born late in 2011 of my desire to hang onto my sanity. I encounter other sanity & fitness questing people and dogs who espouse the same schedule. It’s a subtle community who recognise familiar faces and react in a variety of ways: look straight ahead; nod; smile; and canine pats & sniffs. One shuffling gent greets everyone with “good morning how are you” and a big smile to which all respond equally cheery. At 7 am, a feat not to be underestimated.
Dunbar’s Number has a soft spot for wildlife. The Sydney Park community nurtured the swan family who made the ponds their home for much of 2012. As we watched over the feathered stars with Sir David Attenborough-like zeal, as well as via the Facebook page created in their honour we also managed to communicate the wonder verbally. We presume four of the swans have moved on to other bread scamming locales. The fifth remains, its progress stunted by injuries sustained from dogs who couldn’t read signs prohibiting them from entering the wetlands. If you don’t proffer bread it will happily accept a handful of grass shoots. If you stand quietly and watch, someone may just stand next to you and comment oh it’s still here, oh dear what will become of it…
Dunbar’s Number is kind. Near the end of a walk I noted a familiar little fluffy dog with a perplexed expression and the wrong human adjacent the pond at the three ways. Familiar, because for a year I have witnessed the dog’s human striding along the path 100 metres ahead while Fluffy sniffs faffs locates sprints sniffs faffs locates sprints… That morning something had gone awry but not to worry the wrong human who was also a regular and conferring with several more regulars had the situation under control. As I hit the exit to the park, there was the right human frantically searching for Fluffy with the assistance of her own posse of regulars. “He’s at the pond” was all I needed to say. With a relieved smile and “thank you” echoing “He’s at the pond” to the posse, off she ran.
Dunbar’s Number can be shy. Later the same morning having exchanged sweaty exercise attire for office garb to trot up the hill to the train station among the regulars on that route, I spotted an out of context person who looked very much like Fluffy’s human. We glanced at each other but equally without bearings neither of us was sure enough to do more. Had Fluffy’s escapades that morning changed our timetables and doubled up our Dunbar’s Number connections?
Dunbar’s Number can surprise. The Wiki article on Dunbar’s Number states it “does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship”. Anyone who has been accosted in a pub or supermarket by a school friend from the dark ages will dispute this. I experienced such an occasion many walks ago in a neighbouring area. At 6.00 am I stumbled along attired in unassuming exercise ensemble plus baseball cap & sunglasses in a semblance of walking motion, and heard someone call my name. Thinking it couldn’t possibly be me they wanted, I continued walking. They kept calling louder, insistent enough for me to pay attention from across the street. A former classmate, our association in the past by a quarter of a century and then only by proximity rather than friendship, as it appeared to still be so by her revelation she lived a block away.
Dunbar’s Number is enigmatic. The Wiki article also mentions “A recent study has suggested that Dunbar’s number is applicable to online social networks as well”. Possibly not in the way I experienced while waiting for the train. I was checking out an array of badges on the backpack of a commuter I see regularly. Just as I was puzzling over The Queers I spied a dangling security pass identifying his name as belonging to a short lived boyfriend of my sister, who I was acquainted with only via his comments on her Facebook wall, and her passing confidence. He had no idea who I was. Weird. Very weird.
Dunbar’s Number likes a party. I expect on Sunday evening Dunbar’s Number will need a Berocca and a good night’s sleep after dressing up in fluoro feathers & sequins and perching on a float for the Sydney Mardi Gras 35th Anniversary Festival which culminates with the traditional street parade on Saturday 2 March evening, from Hyde Park along Oxford Street, Darlinghurst ending at Moore Park Rd.
Dunbar’s Number is liberal. Its motto is a variation of Groucho Marx’s famous quote “I don’t care to belong to a club community that accepts only people like me as members”.