Today a stranger knocked on my door and asked to walk through our bathroom in order to get into his room. Yes, that is right, he was a stranger. Today I realized that I don’t know the people I have been sharing a bathroom with for the past four months. Then I realized the situation was worse last year, as I could not even remember anything about our previous bathroom-mates other than the fact that one of them used Pert Plus.
Have I have forgotten how to meet people? Maybe I never knew, as my empty Rolodex and barren weekends seem to proclaim. What caused this disastrous social failure? I blame “network aversion.”
Back in the halcyon days of high school, I remember trumpeting the power of the Harvard Network, justifying the unconscionable price tag on my Harvard education by pointing to the valuable connections that I would make with the future movers and shakers of the world. But once I was here I quickly realized my heart wasn’t in the networking thing. In fact, I was allergic to it.
This allergic reaction first surfaced during the hopeless inanity of prefrosh weekend. There I sat, in the absurd Harvard first-year dining hall, dreading what I sensed I would soon be doing with the motley, shoddily constructed yarn-ball, which organizers sickeningly referred to as a “Warm Fuzzy.” Slowly and deliberately, with saccharine good humor and effortless Harvardese, our emcee gave the instructions for the gruesome “getting-to-know-you” game that helped put me off of people for good (and vice versa).
The object of the game, as it was explained to our unwashed, undifferentiated prefrosh mass, was to collect as many strings from different “Warm Fuzzies” as possible by finding unsuspecting fellow prefroshies, ostensibly exchanging the most superficial of information, extracting a piece of yarn from their different colored “Warm Fuzzy,” then quickly moving on to the next random encounter. The winner was, of course, the person with the most yarn. So, with a sickening smile boiling with condescension, our host shouted “Go!” and the mass began to writhe. The horror, the horror.
This was my introduction to Harvard social life: forced, competitive objectification of others for material gain. But of course, I then realized, this is exactly what is needed to do networking right, a shameless drive toward using people as means.
Seeing firsthand exactly what the prospect of “networking” entailed, I decided that I didn’t even want to play the game. Thus, as everyone around me threw himself or herself into the activity with gusto, exchanging the obligatory “where are you from?” as they eyed the chit-producing orb in their quarry’s hands, I high-stepped it past the melting ice-cream and beelined for the door.
After the Warm Fuzzy Debacle, I basically abstained from participating in the standard, forced social interaction events of early freshman year. But more importantly, I became suspicious of other Harvard students. Seeing the utter vacuity to which some could stoop for even the most insignificant of goals, I began to mistrust anyone who would even casually accost me. Often such interactions would uncover a networker red-handed, as I watched their interest wane with satisfaction as I divulged my concentration (“Physics?! What do you do with that?”). I’d be damned if any palm-greasing, name-dropping, yarn-grubber would squeeze even the time of day out of me, and as a result I seldom initiated any conversations with fellow students.
Thus I only came to know the individuals I met via chance—those in my freshman dorm, those in my classes, those in my extracurriculars. These were the individuals whose interest in my person was not motivated by attempts to grow a network base, or at least if it was, I couldn’t tell. These individuals had legitimate reason to interact with me other than using me as another contact in their Rolodex.
So here I sit, a scant six months away from graduation, and I know, I mean really know, about a dozen people on this campus. That’s about 0.75 percent of my class, worse than most medical school admissions rates. In fact, I know almost no one outside my concentration, and only a scant sampling from within it.
In my tragic struggle to fight back against the dead eyes of the Harvard networking machine, I can’t help but think that I may have thrown hundreds of babies out with their bath water. My overzealous self-righteous condemnation of meeting people for the sake of meeting people, has, predictably, caused me to meet no one. But what to do now?
Hello, my name is B.J. Greenleaf, and I am a victim of network backlash. And you are...?
B.J. Greenleaf ’01-’02 is a physics concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.