(Favourite setting this week, from Vogue Living Australia March 2010)
Or perhaps you would prefer a pink tufted chair. I know I would:
Did you know that the human brain developed over time to manage a particular specific number of social connections? This is known as our social channel capacity and is one of the reasons our brain is so large. Anthropologists argue that the larger the social grouping, the larger the brain.
That number is 150.
Any more, it becomes difficult. The connections become thinner, and less solid. The time we have to spend on each relationship becomes more limited.
Any less, and we probably have more time to devote to these spiderwebs of friendship.
Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' will be familiar with this concept. He provides oodles of evidence in support, including:
- a religious group, the Hutterites, who split into smaller groups each time their grouping approaches 150.
- Gore Corporation, a madly successful US business, which has found its success in part through keeping its corporate groups, and plant personnel, to less than 150 people.
And of course we can all think of our own examples of the power of 150.
Perhaps this is why many weddings and engagement parties have guests which number between 100 and 200. It is why smaller schools are often better for children than very large ones. This may also be why those who live in small country towns, bereft of the infrastructure and services of a big city, are often so happy, content and well connected. They know all the people they need to know.
Graham Greene also had views on this topic. He said that every single person only has the ability to really know a certain number of people, streets and the insides of houses. Any more and we risk becoming overwhelmed. GG didn't need some anthropologist to tell him what he knew in his bones to be true.
So I wonder what all this means in 2010, in an era of Facebook friends in the 100s, subscribers and readers of blogs in the 1000s and Twitterers with millions of followers. Is it all too overwhelming? Can you ever truly know all these people? Or are these just loose social connections - no less satisfactory, but of course different to the ones you have over coffee or a glass of wine? Some people are marvellously well equipped to have multitudes of social connections. They enjoy and thrive on the time required to sustain them. Others really are better off in a small social circle. And yet isn't it strange that you can still feel an innate connection with people just through a sharing of common interests, images or even a joke.
Maybe our brains will have to grow to cope with it. Just like one of my other theories which is that our fingers will eventually develop froglike pads on the end to cope with all the typing we do....