In recent weeks, a startling abundance of paper, in the form of little sheets, has made its way into my living space. Despite the incredible ease and convenience of electronic communication — through which almost everybody can be reached instantly and directly — the preferred means of mass communication seem to have regressed to sheets of paper pushed under or taped to the door.
It all started during the early phases of the race for Ward 1 Alderman. The campaign of incumbent Rebecca Livengood descended upon every door in her constituency, knocking and calling its way to plenty of name recognition and perhaps more aggravation. By Tuesday, three or four green slips of paper with photographs of Livengood and her supporters and a map showing the way to the polls had piled up on the cold floor outside my suite door. Another flyer dangled jauntily from my doorknob. Imagine those same papers, reproduced ad infinitum, at every threshold in Ward 1. To use a tired expression, that’s an awful lot of dead trees.
Nick Shalek, who won, reportedly adopted the less absolutist campaigning technique of reaching out to people within his own social network and urging them to vote for him. I’m not sure what this says about the political motivations of my peers, but I did receive fewer flyers from the Shalek campaign. That, at least, was a relief.
I do not aim to comment on political campaigns. I commend the Livengood people for their passion and involvement. What I, a citizen equally fastidious with regard to the environment as with the tidiness of my own room, care more about is this: It has become common and acceptable to use paper for purposes that could be just as easily served by less wasteful means of advertisement.
In the midst of the environmentally unsound deluge of campaign materials, another piece of paper began to appear in my personal space. One morning I emerged from the shower to be greeted by a cryptic sign on every door in the entryway: “The Use of Chamber Pots is unnecessary at Yale. Do not deposit human waste products in trash containers.”
It hung, fresh, lazy and anonymous, from a slip of masking tape on my door, the bathroom door, my neighbor’s door, the doors downstairs. I assumed that it was a joke, something dreamed up by sophomore boys in a stoned stupor after a long, late night. I tore down the sign and threw it in the trash, annoyed that the writer had identified neither himself nor the problem.
Perhaps you will understand my surprise to learn weeks later that the signs had been produced and distributed by my college master’s office. This wasn’t some prank — it was much worse. It turned out to be the institution’s way of dealing with complaints of mysterious Dixie cups full of urine that had been appearing on the stairs. The entire situation is too ridiculous to warrant much more discussion. It was a bizarre approach to the problem. Worse, it proves that this annoying method of communication is not only implemented by student-run campaigns, but also, unfortunately, by the bureaucratic backbone of our lives.
We may be living in close, informal quarters on campus, but that is no excuse for invasions of personal space and property. Privacy is important: We need rooms in which to be ourselves, free and unfettered, relaxed. The places in which we sleep should belong to us, at least for a little while. If papers are stuck to our doors with rude messages or campaign slogans, it should be because we put them there and want them there, not because somebody else does. The chamber-pot signs have disappeared, one by one, from the doors in my entryway, because, just as I did, the people living behind the doors threw the papers away.
It comes down to the fact that there are better ways to communicate than this passive-aggressive method of tacking things up and running away. This business of sticking papers onto other people’s doors is a legitimate form of vandalism, a display of contempt and disrespect for their property and themselves. A friend told me that she wished that, to make up for all the paper wasted on campaigns, everyone would insist on reusable cups from coffee shops. Here is my suggestion for those who want to mend karmic fences: Don’t barrage me with papers anymore! Send me an e-mail (and, for the love of God, only one) and take ownership of your words, and I promise to remember what you say.
Helen Vera is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.