Saturday, November 30, 2019

Dunbar's number of Sherlockians

How many Sherlockian friends can we have?

As I've been compiling something akin to a Christmas card list this year, reflecting upon the year that just passed and who was in it (and, like the Oscars, probably noticing those who featured in the latter part of the year than the earlier part), I could not help but think of Dunbar's number.

Dunbar's number is a suggested limit to the amount of friends one could keep familiar with, expressed by Dunbar informally as "the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar." Since much of Sherlockian culture is based on that level of familiarity, it seemed like Dubar's number should apply.

That number? 150 people.

And having had an experience of Sherlockians over two nations and one separate continent over the last forty years, I'd say, for me, that number sounds about right. Certainly there were more Sherlockians that I've had contact with over that time, but names/faces I'd feel comfortable plopping down next to in a bar? One hundred and fifty sounds close.

Of course, that might have been at my Sherlockian peak. Having been out of the main streams of the hobby for a while, some have passed on, a few seem like they might still be mad at me for one thing or another that I wrote or said, and surely more than a few have just forgotten me by now. Part of the reason Dunbar's number remains a comfortable concept is that it's very had to completely prove or disprove. It just kinda feels right to us non-anthropologists.

I doubt many of us ever sit down and make a list of our friends, outside of such activities as Christmas card or wedding invitation lists -- the latter usually happening when we're young enough that the list isn't anything as long as it might be if we all first married at sixty. But if you were going to have a massive Sherlockian party in a given year, based on Sherlockians you'd include in your "sit with for a drink" list  -- As I don't drink that much, make that the "invite to share a table at dinner" list. -- how many invitations would you send?

As we move through our Sherlockian lives we exist in communities of our own making. Who we interact with online, what events or club meetings we attend, who we go to the trouble of sending a letter to. Those who enter our lives by sheer change and we put a star next to their names in our heads, noting them as someone we enjoy seeing or writing to again. Those personal communities are rarely collected in one place, even for weddings or funerals, and why would we want them to be? Trying to even just say "hi" to 150 people you could easily spend more time with just sounds like a challenge with no reward. You would enjoy your time so much more if you failed!

This year, I'm trying something new and doing something appreciative for a few folks, both random and specific, with a definite cut-off point. So far, it seems to be working well enough that it might happen again next year. But we shall see. Starting small but wondering if that Dunbar number is something to work up to, and see if it is actually possible. As the man said, "We can but try."

No comments:

Post a Comment