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The inner circle of life

I was recently reminded of the Tom Hanks-Emma Watson starrer, ‘The Circle’, while casually conversing with a friend. Though the movie itself is a feeble and uninspiring commentary on the pitfalls of the omnipresent social media, it did tickle a few neurons in the head.

Please forgive the sudden departure from pedestrian language, but having binge-watched The Big Bang Theory, I often find myself conversing in a manner, not unlike Sheldon Cooper. Drat! I meant Dr Sheldon Cooper, the superbly irritating portrayal of a theoretical physicist by the very talented Jim Parsons!

Despite the poor screen-writing and execution of the movie, the premise does ask an important question? What is the true worth of our social ‘circle’? Is there actual merit to having a hundred friends or a thousand followers on Facebook and Instagram? The way both platforms quantitatively define our worth itself is an eye-opener on how far ahead have come along the journey of growing further apart from one another.

Orkut began with the concept of scrapbooks. Facebook extended it to a broader canvas of free-scrolling walls where we could share opinions and thoughts. Instagram switched the whole thing over to photos, videos and the vanity that comes with it. Over the short decade and a half that these social media giants have existed, we’ve gone from being buddies to friends to mere followers. What’s more, TikTok and Reels made sure that alongside the reduction in the quality of our connection, we also reduce our attention span, our ability to consume any content that does not move and our collective IQ.

Interestingly, the above rant was supposed to be a side joke in a quoted section just like this one but turns out that it’s not a joke anymore! The joke is this. We have officially brought the term ‘herd mentality’ to life in the most mundanely consistent form possible. We literally ‘follow’ people in the name of connecting with people, and connect with people who have the most ‘followers’.

So, it is clear that this social circle that we allude to is quite similar to the rings around Saturn. Fine lines from a distance, but just a revolving swirl of debris and gas up-close. And even then, there is a circle that does count – your inner circle.

And by the inner circle, I don’t mean the close group of friends that you ‘used’ to hang out with every weekend at the local bar. This one runs a bit deeper than the usual Sunday morning hangover buddies.

Isn’t it funny that you are hung-over after hanging out with friends at bars? Anyone?… No?… Okay.

Our inner circle begins from our childhood and radially grows outwards as time passes by, and as we meet more people. At birth, that circle probably has your mother, her gynaecologist and your father, if you are in a country where childbirth is not a closed-door affair! You’ll notice that with age, the circle grows larger and we start picking up more people along the way. We begin with relatives, kindergarten buddies, school friends, teachers, and eventually move on to college mates, colleagues, lovers, and a spouse or spouse’s’, based on our propensity to lead a thrilling life.

I have noticed that the strength of these bonds is usually inversely proportional to its distance from the nucleus, a.k.a your birth. Obviously, some connections such as your mom’s gynaecologist and your paediatrician do drop off entirely, but whichever connect manages to hold on, does exude a strength that newer relations just can’t.

Interestingly, I propose two corollaries to this social phenomenon, based on further thought.

I did tell you that Dr Cooper has taken hold over my mind for now. My wife has got to live with, so can you.

Corollary A:

Our propensity and ability to form life-long connects drops exponentially as we move radially outwards through life.

Corollary B:

The average longevity of a connection also reduces exponentially based on its distance from the nucleus.

Basically, both the corollaries say that it gets tougher to make friends. With every passing year, we become more opinionated about our own life as well as the life that others should lead. What usually would have been an exploratory conversation transforms into a judgmental crusade beyond a certain age. Most of our connects beyond a certain age threshold, are in fact, circumstantial. For a lot of people, college mates are just folks you had your first drink and cigarette with, office colleagues are a way to fill the gaping holes called ‘lunch hours’ and ‘coffee breaks’. People attach and detach rather quickly, their focus usually becomes selfish once they start a family, and with time they move on.

If the corollaries were a bit much, then listen to this one. What if the concept of a circle has a quantitative significance, as mentioned by Robin Dunbar in the 90s.

While a common belief does exist that a person can have no more than five best friends for life, that may seem a bit harsh especially considering a few other relations where the frequency of contact automatically gets curbed as years progress. But even if we believe the BFF rule to be gospel, and for the sake of a buffer add a few rudimentary relations that do make sense outside the traditional definition of a ‘friend’; the results are spooky.

What we get, are orbits of nine people around us that may define our entire social circle for life – your five BFFs, your parents, your partner, and your kid.

The sane assumption here being that raising more than a single kid is tantamount to global obliteration in a few centuries, considering our deteriorating blue-green planet.

Curiously enough, does the inner circle of life mirror our existence in this cosmos? Could be that on the macro-level, our solar system represents the physical boundaries of life, and on the micro-level, the nine people represent the psychological boundaries of our life as humans.

I know that the pluto-killers out there must be dying to denounce this suggestion based on the eight-planet theory, but a dwarf planet or not, I liked Pluto. So that’s it. Also, what kind of a definition is this that any ‘body’ in space that crosses the path of other planetary bodies cannot be called a planet? Maybe Pluto just had a thing for Neptune!

The tail end of this post was a train of thought that led me deeper than I had initially intended, but that still does not change my core proposal. There is a circle that defines the essential people in our life, and it grows only until a certain point of time. So, while we debate on the concept of ‘nine’ go-to people in our life and the reflection of the cosmos in our bathroom mirrors, let’s agree on one thing –

No one’s getting younger, unless they are Benjamin Button. So let’s not close our doors on someone in a misguided sense of self-sufficiency that we’d regret later in life. Because the one thing that I CAN’T tell you is the POINT at which this circle freezes in time, nine people or not.

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