analog

At the end of last year I decided to delete my social media for good. I had been drifting in this direction for a little while, and in May I finally took the plunge. Disclaimer: I don’t mean to leave anyone with the impression that I am anti-social media; this is just my own journey.

To tell the full story, I’ll go back to sophomore year of high school: I had just transferred from the school system that I had attended for ten years to be closer to home, and it was the first time in my memory that I was truly new. 15 years old and nervous about making a good impression at my new school, I decided that the surest way to make friends would be to have a presence on “social networking.” It seemed like people talked about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, so I quickly signed up for all four, and waited. They were a background presence on my phone and in my mind. I didn’t post much on Instagram and I completely failed to understand Snapchat, so I was always more of a passive user. I did end up making friends at my new school, but most of that happened in person: sitting together at lunch, working on a project for class, hanging out in the stands after marching band practice. I wasn’t super involved in social media during high school; it was just kind of there. When I arrived at Williams at the beginning of freshman year, I became a little self-conscious about not understanding social media culture. Would everyone in college ignore me if I didn’t answer their Snapchats fast enough? But as freshman year progressed, I made friends and eventually Williams felt like home—and all of that was based on talking to people. I still wasn’t good at social media, so at the end of spring semester I finally deleted all my accounts for good. It felt right, and I didn’t think much of it over the summer.

Being back on campus this year has felt profoundly different. I’m more at ease just by virtue of familiarity, my classes are fascinating, I love my room and my roommate, and it’s amazing to spontaneously hang out with my friends again in the beautiful Berkshires. On top of all that, I just noticed that this is the first time I’m approaching Williams without a trace on social media. As the semester starts, I’ve heard people mentioning a Facebook poster for a campus event, or someone’s cool Instagram story, and I’ve started to wonder if maybe I am missing out on something. After all, the part of you that you share on social media is a part of you. Am I not seeing that part at all now that I can’t scroll past it, or does social media just highlight a part of someone that is less obvious in person? I have zero regrets about deleting social media; it never worked for me, and I’m glad I realized that. But after abruptly ending a background presence in my life that had been there for four years, I haven’t figured out quite yet how to interact with the world without it.

Passive Activity

I was sitting by myself in Paresky at lunch today when I started thinking about what I do when I’m not doing anything. When I’m eating by myself in particular, I feel rather self-conscious when I’m not doing something other than eating, when I’m not doing another passive activity at the same time. Typically taking the form of listening to music, working on schoolwork/readings for class, or being on my phone in general, I think most people feel a similar impulse to be doing something at all times. It honestly felt great for me to put my phone and books away for 20 minutes and just sit there, hum a tune, watch the rest of the bustling world around me.

I’m sure technology and “those darn phones” play their roles in this constant need for stimulation and activity. I bet another factor is the fact that we live in the place where we work basically all the time at Williams. There’s not much geographic separation between our school-business and the rest of our lives. There’s also, of course, the social expectation that we’re always at least thinking about our work. We have a reputation to live up to, after all!

I certainly don’t want to shame people with this post, and I don’t even necessarily want to argue that being on your phone isn’t a valuable use of down time, but I do want to impress that I think that noticing what your default passive activities are can be a really good way to start developing better habits and figuring out how you want to spend your time.

For instance, over the summer I decided I wanted to read more books, and so I started replacing other passive activities with reading. Instead of needing to sit down for 20-page sessions at a time, I’d just read a couple pages whenever I was between doing other things. It worked really well: I got through several great books over the summer, and I remembered what was going on in these books much better, since I was spending time with them more often. Back at school, unfortunately my leisure reading has largely fallen off, but I’ve started a new habit of going to the Music Center during study breaks and playing piano, something that I’m not seeking any particular end goal with, but just doing for the fun of it. Ultimately, I think a lot of our days can be sucked up into time that we would prefer/find more fulfilling to spend in different ways, and so the first step to carpeing the heck out of your diems is to take a look at what you’re doing when you’re not doing anything.

Watching campus breathe

I’ve found a new favorite spot on campus: the grass in front of Griffin, facing WCMA. It’s not a study spot, or a place to meet friends; it’s a place where I can just be. I found it a couple of days ago when I was early to a 7pm class, and the light over the mountains was so beautiful I couldn’t go inside to wait for class to start. Instead, I just sat there in the grass and took in the rhythm of campus. From here I can see the sky changing over West; a perfectly framed picture of the mountains past the football field through the space between WCMA and Fay; students and professors and dog-walkers scurrying along the sidewalks; the bustle of Route 2; the WCMA eyes. I’ve come to see the eyes differently this year. Last year they felt unnerving, like spectators placed in the middle of everything to keep us under their watchful gaze. But for some reason, the once-menacing jets of light now seem like a beacon in the night, and the seats are remarkably soft for cold stone. From my spot in the grass, gazing back at the eyes and all the life going on around them, I feel like I’m watching campus breathe.

The Depth of Human Experience

***NOTE: I was partially inspired to put this post together after finishing the excellent anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. To say any more would involve spoilers, but what I talk about here is a major theme of the show, so if you’re interested in what you read, definitely check it out!***

On our “About The Blog” page, some brilliant friend of Grace’s is quoted: “Don’t you think there’s a lot to us all?” I absolutely think so, and I’ve been spending some time this summer thinking about just how much that is. And the more I think about it, the more staggeringly vast individual consciousness and experience seems to me! We each have a universe inside of our heads. There is so, so much going on constantly within us, that often can’t be seen by others around us. I definitely think we overestimate the extent to which we can understand or be understood by others, just because our experience of ourselves is so so much deeper than what can be projected in a typical social setting.

Is it any wonder that giving advice is so hard, when every person’s individual experience is so unique? Is it any wonder that intimacy is so hard when only a tiny tip of the iceberg of a person’s soul is bared to anyone outside of themselves at a given time? Is it any wonder that everyone feels insecure or unconfident sometimes when that tip is usually the best our superego has to offer, and we’re all too aware of what else lies hidden underneath?

Thinking this way probably isn’t actually going to change my interactions with others all that much, but I definitely think there are real insights to be made by considering the rich, complex, and subjective worlds that each person has all to themselves.

Post-Hamilton Thoughts

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton played by Leslie Odom Jr. and Lin Manuel Miranda (respectively) in the original Broadway Hamilton cast

I was lucky enough to get to see Hamilton, the brilliant musical, with my long-time friend and her family in San Francisco. What struck me was how a lot of fights/duels had to do as much with divergent views for the nation as the divergent personalities of the Founding Fathers. From the get-go, Aaron Burr hated how Alexander Hamilton talked so much. And from Burr’s advice, you could tell he was a fraud, a sell-out.

I don’t want to be like Aaron Burr— “a guy you can get a beer with,” but who doesn’t have any strong beliefs on any topic and can be wishy-washy to conform to or please whoever he’s around.

But I also don’t want to be (nor could really be because I’m not that sharp-witted and unfiltered enough) like my friend and her brother, who are more like Hamilton. They let their very blunt, often downright harsh opinions loose all the time, albeit in an extremely smart, funny way. They make me laugh even though I know I probably shouldn’t be laughing. When I express this, they stretch me to question where I’m getting the idea that I “shouldn’t” be laughing at/saying something. They make me want to let my guard down more because it can be way more fun and carefree to just say whatever you’re thinking (even if what comes out of your mouth will never be as witty or sharp as what comes out of theirs no matter how much Mrs. Maisel or Robin Williams comedy specials or rap battles you watch).

I do think that some of their character judgements or opinions about things we’ve just seen can be quickly formed, short-sighted and/or pessimistic, not seeing a situation/person in all its complexity. But you can’t say that they don’t take a side. You know exactly where they stand. And they do always have a lot of readings/research, which are summoned by their top-knotch memories (JEALOUS), to back up their HOT takes.

I want to qualify and filter less and be more vocal and outspoken about things I care about, which means researching/reading/discussing more. At the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice my abilities to listen and appreciate that the world is rarely black and white and that’s what makes it beautiful.

Nostalgia

It’s a strange emotion. Nostalgia is basically bittersweet by definition: simultaneously a happy remembrance of “the good ol’ days” and a wistful yearning to return to the simplicity and peace of those times. I’ve never really thought too deeply into the experience of nostalgia before, but now that I’m back home, surrounded by faces I haven’t seen in a year and running through a village I’ve made lots of memories in, I’ve been struck by how odd the mind’s rose-tinted recollections of the times gone by are. After all, it wasn’t as if I actually had no problems back then! People always have anxieties and insecurities, and many of those that I had then I still do today! I bet nostalgia’s existence is directly tied in to the natural human fear of change. It’s the mind telling you, “remember how great things have been? You don’t want to lose what you have, do you?” I’ve been doing my best to take such impulses with a grain of salt, and being excited about the future as well as content with the past. The times I’ve had have been great, but I’m looking forward to making the times to come even better!

27 Emotions, Tons of Gifs

I know you all need an extra source of distraction during finals period, so here you go! This is an interactive map of the 27 basic emotional states, as devised by scientists at UC Berkeley. There are hundreds of gifs and videos included, that appear when you scroll over them and which will make you feel the entire spectrum of emotions! The map captures well how different emotions blend into one another, and how viscerally certain things can make us feel one way or another. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, so check it out for yourself!

Larger Than Life

“Larger Than Life,” Backstreet Boys

I’ve heard people described as this as well as met some people who I think would fall into this category. They are supremely charismatic, outrageously funny, refreshingly unfiltered, and often are captivating storytellers who can entrance a room but who can also make an individual feel heard and special. Although, someone like Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby also might be considered larger than life for his reputation and the luxurious parties he throws…but except for a formal speech, he stands to the side at his parties and silently scans the crowds for his one-and-only, Daisy. So I guess my definition of “larger than life” should broaden and really just encompass those who are memorable and story worthy, for one reason or another, and act a little bit like this life isn’t quite good enough for them. It might just be me, but I could see larger than life people being supremely well-liked or well-regarded, but maybe unsatisfied because they’re always striving for what they don’t still have…like Gatsby with Daisy. But if Daisy loved him, would he be content? But is the reason that she can’t love him because he is too full of himself? Is being larger than life something to aspire to or does it cause more net unhappiness? Can it even be aspired to or is it more innate?

In Praise of Unnecessary Knowledge

A few days ago, I started a new daily habit of writing a fun fact on the whiteboard on the door to my room. These facts aren’t things I learn in class. They aren’t “life hacks” or inspirational quotes. They are true facts about things that have happened in the past or about the way things are, and they are completely inconsequential, of no practical use to anyone. And that’s why they’re great!

Learning is not something that should always be a chore. Discovering more about the world around us should be fun and awe-inspiring! I want to do my part to kindle the joy of discovery in people around me, and in myself too. Fun facts, trivia, unnecessary knowledge are perfect for such inspiration. They don’t carry any responsibility with them. You don’t need to act upon them, you don’t even need to remember them! You just need to enjoy them and appreciate knowing something more about the fascinating world we live in.

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