I still remember my first blue book. It arrived in one of those oversize envelopes during the summer before my freshman year, a summer spent zipping around the balmy climes of Berkeley, Calif., from one friend’s house to another, squeezing the last little bits of life out of high school while looking forward to the bright college years that awaited me. I remember removing it from its packaging, sitting down with it and beginning to pore over it with obsessive zeal. I had no idea what any of it meant, but I was determined to understand it all, to commit my plentiful brain cells to solving the puzzle it contained: how to get the most out of my forthcoming education.
This semester, by contrast, I didn’t even start using that handy online course-scheduling worksheet thing until the night before shopping period started. I was tipsy enough when I started that I added classes with silly titles — Franco-Belgian Comic Strips, Gay Paris 1900-1940, Dirty and Dangerous Work, and this semester’s Grand Prize winner, Shops and Shopping — as readily as classes that actually interested me. I was so off-handed about the whole thing that I even added the Senior Essay for the wrong department (or decided I was going to change my major to Geology and Geophysics, one of the two). The sense of wonderment, of possibility, of curiosity that I felt as a wee freshman had been replaced by … well, by intoxication, evidently.
So what the hell happened to me?
I’m pretty sure that I’m stupider than I used to be. I think back to my high-school days, when I could hunker down with an AP Physics textbook and tell myself I wasn’t allowed to move until I understood Biot-Savart’s Law or whatever, and I can’t fathom doing that kind of thing now. Completion of even the most basic reading assignments is threatened by a myriad of distractions — chief among them the unwanted onset of naptime, the perpetual call of snacktime, and the soft embrace of staring at the wall until a loud enough noise snaps me back to reality and I either take a nap or get a snack.
OK, so that’s not precisely getting stupider (although I’m pretty convinced I am); it’s losing focus. The truth is, my attention span is shot. I don’t know what did it — burnout, the natural aging process, the untold numbers of brain cells claimed by substance abuse, as in so many other college students — but when it comes to bearing down and focusing on pretty much anything, I’m useless. I had to pop three Adderall when I started this article and another one just to get through this paragraph. Then I wound up vacuuming my room, sorting my e-mail and alphabetizing all my bookshelves. I don’t even remember what time zone I’m in. Somebody send help.
Here’s a thought: Could the Internet be making me stupid? This makes sense. The Information Superhighway is a light-year wide and an angstrom deep, and it provides you with a jaw-dropping amount of information but no way of prioritizing or caring what you’re looking at. There’s a 50-50 chance that any given Web page will be worthwhile or a waste of time, so the only thing to do is keep clicking around endlessly. The whole thing’s designed for someone with the attention span of a coked-up porpoise.
Don’t get me wrong, though: I love the thing. As far as I’m concerned, being pretty sure something is halving my intellect every two to four years is no reason to stop using it.
What were we talking about? Internet … getting stupider … short attention span … Jell-O … oh, yeah: shopping period. The thing about shopping period is that I used to hate it. It used to drive me nuts trying to pick classes; since everything seemed so awesome, deciding seemed impossible. Now I can’t get enough. It’s buffet-style academia, and no one can get angry at you for waltzing in late and leaving when you please. It’s perfect for a guy like me: If I get bored in class I can just, like, go to a different class, which is usually a hell of a lot more interesting than naptime or snacktime, provided no one wants me to do anything weird like “remember anything that was said while you were in the room.” It’s school minus consequences, a grand salad bar of knowledge for the a-la-carte-averse. Everyone thinks it’s catering to freshmen who don’t know what they’re looking for … but it’s actually catering to seniors who no longer really care.
So here’s another thought: When it comes to quantity of information and arbitrary packaging, isn’t Yale College pretty much the same as the Internet? This also makes sense. The offerings in the blue book are staggeringly broad and seem interesting enough, but figuring out which classes are the best or interest you the most is an impossible task, and no one who bites it off ever feels like they’ve chewed it properly. There’s a 50-50 chance that any given class will be worthwhile or a waste of time, in the long run. Shopping period is the equivalent of clicking link after link in glazed-over silence, waiting for something to leap off the screen at you. The whole thing’s designed for someone with the attention span of a coked-up porpoise … which, by this point, seems to be me.
Speaking of which, I’d love to keep talking about this, but I think my buzz is wearing off. And besides, I have to get up early tomorrow … I’m shopping “Observing the Earth from Space.” Or that’s what my Schedule Worksheet says, anyway.
David Chernicoff isn’t actually as cranky as he sounds; he just needs more Adderall. Do any of you have Adderall? Seriously — anyone?