All Work and No Play

Ivy League Idler

As the booze- and nostalgia-fuelled train that is senior year pulls away from the platform, I find myself looking longingly at the college landscape racing past the windows. The thought of my destination, that nebulous, uninviting thing called the “real world,” fills me with dread. In the “real world,” there is very little time for the concept that has become a religion for me and many of my peers during our four years here: the belief that leisure time, time spent doing absolutely nothing, is sacrosanct.

This idea is so institutionalized that the very thought of class on Friday fills most students with horror. This summer I worked in a particular industry, which I will neglect to name here, in which not only Fridays but (gasp!) even Saturdays and Sundays were fair game for work. It was with a heavy heart and heavier footsteps that I dragged myself—literally, I was on crutches for most of the summer—to the office many a weekend, knowing how ludicrous it was for me to be there at all. In Harvard land, weekend class work is as alien as arriving on the hour for section.

But lo and behold as I entered the office there were other people in this harshly-lit, over air-conditioned wasteland of PCs. There were other people working on the weekend, a concept that violated every fibre of my being. I sat down at my desk and half expected my chair to eject me, as if it, too, scoffed at my presence here on a Saturday. I attempted to turn on my computer. Surely this won’t work, I thought. The power must be off on the weekend. But sure enough, my impersonal windows desktop flickered into view, along with several emails from my various bosses, sent earlier that day. They’re all aliens, I concluded.

Why do Harvard students believe this right to leisure is so, if you will, inalienable? Just what is it about student life that makes us feel so entitled to downtime? It’s not as though we work that hard. Admittedly, I am a senior, and therefore perhaps on the low end of the workload spectrum, but I am by no means taking an easy course load. My total class time for the week comes in at under 10 hours, as does my sister’s. She is a freshman.

In the real world, 10 hours of work a week would barely pay enough to buy you a fancy meal, let alone a fancy Harvard education. Let’s do some quick math. “Math, in the Arts section?” you ask, horrified. Don’t worry, you can handle it. Just some quick multiplication and division, and then you can get back to your leisure time. If you can’t be bothered, and leisure time is beckoning in that irresistible way it has of making you cheat on productivity, then just put down the paper right now. I won’t tell. No one’s making you read this article. In fact, you’re doing The Crimson a favour by reading it.

Okay, if you’re still with me, let’s do that math. My on-campus job pays me $13 an hour.If I were to work 10 hours a week, I would make $130 a week. A Harvard education costs about $50,000 a year. So it would take me 385 weeks, or seven years, of working at that rate to pay for one year of college, excluding the cost of keeping me alive for those seven years. So in other words, if I were compensated $13 for every hour of class I attend, I would earn about 13 percent per year of the annual cost of keeping me here. That’s nothing!

So why do we feel like we are doing people a favor by gracing lectures with our presence? Why do we feel like we deserve brownie points just for showing up to class? Why do I reward myself for turning in an assignment with hours of TV and rounds and rounds of drinks?

Far be it from me to bash free time. I spend most of my day trying to maximize it. I believe it is both necessary and valuable, and ultimately makes you better at whatever it is you are trying to do. But one can have too much of a good thing. One can have an excess of idleness. It’s not something you really need to learn, which is why I am baffled by the existence of Visual and Environmental Studies 80: “Loitering.” The class description reads, “You will hang out in the vicinity of culture… This class is not linked to any particular discipline.” Well, I already take “Loitering.” It has been my fifth class since freshman year. And it’s the one class I always show up to.

Columnist Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at aitzkow@college.harvard.edu.

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