When it comes to purchasing pieces of technology, my philosophy is to choose the product that provides just enough capability. The laptop my parents bought for me in college was a netbook—I could have asked for something with a larger screen, or a more powerful processor, or a more generous hard disk, but I knew that school work rarely asked more of computers than basic word processing. When tablets became popular and the iPad mini came out, I still chose to get the Nexus 7, which was a lesser package in perhaps all aspects except two, where it mattered for me: price and display quality (should be of high resolution and color accuracy).
Yet when I was presented the opportunity to choose just about any phone I could have (as a gift), I swallowed all semblances of consumerist guilt and picked the glamorous iPhone. I rationalized it by thinking, hopefully objectively, that it truly was the best-in-class in the product attributes I cared about.
In particular, I was enchanted by the device’s camera module. Until I had the phone, I had stubbornly kept on using a sturdy six-year-old Sony digicam, and I did not mind that it was not ‘cool’, so long as I was able to take ‘proper’ photos. Little did I know that technology had advanced faster than I thought, and in six years’ time a tiny camera module in the corner of a slim, shiny block of a phone had already outclassed a dedicated device more than twice its size.
Some time ago, Sandwich shared an article entitled “When CDs Were Precious Objects” on their Facebook page with the caption “A younger generation’s Betamax.” It made me wax nostalgic about my own relationship with these shiny, delicate discs.
About a decade ago when I was a high school freshman, a band called Hale was terribly popular and one of my classmates received a copy of their debut album as a birthday gift. I liked “The Day You Said Goodnight” so I was curious about the entire album—and when I learned that my classmate already had a copy of the CD, I bugged him all day to donate the extra one to me, which he did.
Why didn’t you just download the music, kids these days might ask. Because 56-kbps dial-up was all I had then for an Internet connection, and downloading an entire album’s worth of high-quality audio was an all-week, all-night affair. (And it cost 100 pesos per 20 hours.) Besides, Hale’s album is a beautiful artifact. Its album sleeve is a work of art—full of sepia photography alternating with lyrics written in fine calligraphy on translucent paper. A few months later at a gig in Siena College, I was able to get that album signed by Hale themselves, and they wrote the email address for their Yahoo! Groups site on the cover.
We were on the deck of a ferry named MV Beautiful Stars, on a drizzly Saturday morning before the grand Sinulog festival day. It was the traditional fluvial parade, but not much was happening and we were uncertain of what we were waiting for. We’ve been on the ship since before dawn, idling the time away on the cramped passenger bunk beds while Mass was celebrated in the ship’s main hold below. Though people lined up the length of the deck’s railings, I could see through just enough to watch Cebu City in the blue overcast dawn. The city is decidedly distinct from Manila in how it is so close not just to the sea, but to the mountains as well. Cebu’s tallest towers are eclipsed by the mountains beyond when viewed from the sea. In Manila one could spend days without noticing the distant mountains, if one were to be completely lost in the urban jungle as I often am.
Someone in the group eventually found a way for us to get out onto the foredeck. While I was carefully stepping over the pipes and valves on the metal floor, a band started playing the festive notes of that trademark Sinulog melody to the channel’s salty air. That was when I saw the most remarkable of the many dances I was to witness in Cebu that weekend: a young lady, in casual shirt and jeans, swaying and swiveling while firmly holding with both hands a diminutive image of the Santo Niño. It seemed like someone merely handed her, a random passenger, the image and asked her to dance to fill the gap while the professional dancers were still preparing. It was a pure, spontaneous dance; not unique as it was the same dance that any lady holding a Sto. Niño would perform during the festival, but it was personal. Eventually the dancers in María Clara dresses and barong arrived, and performed their choreographed dance to everyone’s satisfaction.
In the social sciences there is a hypothesis, popularly known as Dunbar’s number, which holds that there is a limit to the number of people an individual can maintain meaningful relationships with, which is approximately 150. According to its proponent, anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is “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.” Interestingly, this number has been supported by observations in society: it is the size of hunter-gatherer clans, Western military units throughout history, and the offices of firms with nonhierarchical organizational structures, among others.
I was reminded of this concept in my recollection of the year 2014. It was a year of significant change for me: I graduated from university, starting working at a corporate job, and relocated to a city across the metropolis. The people I see on a day-to-day basis now is a very much different set of faces from those I was used to seeing earlier in the year.
Dunbar’s number is fascinating because it is a scientific formulation of the common-sense knowledge that we can have only so many friends. Dunbar, who came up with the statistic for humans by studying other primates and then correlating the brain sizes of species with their corresponding social group sizes, delivered a concrete number to account for social circles. It converted the questionable activity of counting one’s friends into a legitimate matter of economics. (In fact, in relation to Dunbar’s number, social scientists use such terms as ‘social capital’.)
It felt bizarre when I met my officemates for the first time. Fresh out of college and into my first job, I had the uncomfortable feeling that, somehow, I already knew them.
It wasn’t a mystical intuition. It was not the chilling insight of déjà vu, no; I didn’t have the supernatural insight that I have met them before in a previous life. But over trainings, meetings, and lunches, I was surprised that I found nothing surprising about them. I felt like they’ve already shared with me their intimate beliefs, when they haven’t; I felt like I could already describe what their friends were like, when I really couldn’t. And even at a gathering over abundant alcohol, when I most expected to see the unexpected from them, I saw and heard nothing of note.
Is it possible that I have met enough people in my life that I’ve come to know all the varieties of personality traits that there are? Are all my new and future acquaintances merely amalgamations, mixtures in different proportions, of all the habits and manners and human characteristics that there are, and of which I’ve already seen everything?