"you have better chance to like someone if there are 50 people rather than 3"
That is what Linnea said on Episode 18 of The Humans inside the Pods. That one particular sentence stuck with me. Her reasoning makes so much sense and yet, we seem to often think backwards. Not only do we then have more chance to encounter people we will "fit" with but we also thrive from more social interactions with a more diverse range of people. In times like these, when social life is often digital, the people we live with remain the ones we can be face to face without "facetiming" and touch without "poking"*.
Reference to numbers of course made me think of the Dunbar Number theory. If you're not already familiar with it, there is an excellent New Yorker article about it, from which what follows is inspired.
Robin Dunbar's research shows there are a "limited" number of people our human brain simply has the capacity to establish and sustain a relationship with.
In the abstract of his research "Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes" pubished in 2015, one reads :
"we identify, with high statistical confidence, a discrete hierarchy of group sizes with a preferred scaling ratio close to three: rather than a single or a continuous spectrum of group sizes, humans spontaneously form groups of preferred sizes organized in a geometrical series approximating 3–5, 9–15, 30–45, etc."
That "rule off three" is often simplified as follow:
5 is the number of people who you consider your closest friends, like family.
15 are those friends you see most often and you are there for each others
50 is the number of friends you consider close. Interesting number as K9 coliving is home to about fifty residents.
150 is approximately the maximum number of people you could call a friend. Casual friend that is.
That being said (and proven), where does that leave us in terms of community living? The mere idea of living with 150 people, whether or not I consider them casual friend, seems overwhelming to me.
I would argue that maxing out to 150 just because "we can" (our brains do) doesn't sound obvious to me. Especially if one is in search of meaningful relationships and personal growth at home.
50? As much as I enjoyed my three years living with my 50 housemates, I also felt, like many of us, periods of deep social exhaustion.
After much consideration, lots of conversations and some simple maths (not my forte) I came to the conclusion that the number of people I would thrive living with in aclose knit community, my perfect coliving, would home 25 souls.
And here is how I see it:
I need an absolute minimum of 5 people around me "at all time", I would even argue for more, maybe 8 to 10. Why not live with 10 people then? Glad you asked. Because of course, people have their own lives. Some are working a lot, others travel all the time, there are people with lots of friends outside the home and people who are more introvert and need to recharge by themself for longer. Which means that at the end of the day, I would probably only be around 3-4 people at all time. Not enough.
With 25 housemates I have enough to go around but not too many that I'm overwhelmed. We will easily fit around a long table on the odd ocasion where we are all home and I will always have 10 people around me. 5 can be traveling, 5 can be working late, 5 can be meeting friends or spending quality time on their own. It works. For me it does.
What is your perfect number?
* For those here too young to remember the beginning of Facebook, it was a thing.