26 November, 2005

Perfect circle

I once read an article about how scientists in America had undertaken a study into the optimum number of people the human brain feels comfortable knowing. They'd conducted various psychological tests and empirical research, and had discovered the ideal quantity of friends or acquaintances a person should aspire towards having was 100.

I remember thinking at the time how this sounded absurd: nobody can have a whole century's worth of friends. I wasn't too bothered with the ethical or moral dimension involved in conjuring up such a quota, more - typically - how it impacted on me and my own circumstances.

But then I remember casting back through my own life and finding a point in time when I could indeed claim to know around 100 people - know in the sense of being able to avoid having to always introduce myself, to be on first name terms, and to exchange more than pleasantries.

It was when I was back at school, in the sixth form. I wasn't aware at the time, but thanks to common room culture and various after-school activities I'd somehow landed myself with a circle of acquaintances larger than ever before (or since). I certainly wouldn't have counted all of them as true friends, but they were definitely all people I "knew" in a manner that would satisfy any prospective battery of US scientists and sociologists.

100 people seems a hell of a lot now, more so considering they were all in the same place and hence always around me, every weekday. I know far less people nowadays. A dozen or so at work (none of whom bar two I'd count as friends), a dozen more online, a further dozen scattered around the country who I rarely see or speak to, plus my close family.

Does this place me in a hopelessly tiny minority? The thought of regularly being in an environment boasting 100 people terrifies me today. Yet I will always rate my two years in the sixth form as two of the best years of my life.

I live alone, so I guess the only world I can only ever move in is my own - and I've subconsciously turned that into one where I am as little burden upon as few people as possible, in the belief that I shouldn't dare to presume otherwise. Who says anybody at work would have a care for what goes on in my life outside office hours?

So things have come in a full, though sadly not a perfect, circle: from having a miniscule number of friends for most of my time at school, to enjoying the company of that elusive magic 100, to being back on my own. The innocence of trudging hopelessly round the playground trying to tag along with others has been replaced with the bitter experience of effortlessly winning and equally effortlessly losing a succession of acquaintances in a succession of environments.

Somewhere out there are 100 people, 96 of whom I am perfectly sure have long since forgotten I even existed. Which probably, given all this wittering, is not a bad thing...


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