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Bring Back Banter

By Isabel H. Evans

For teenagers or young “twenty-somethings,” Harvard students tend to act a lot like forty-year old corporate executives. I’m not talking about a general obsession with business casual or the fact that the only sport we really seem to excel at is squash. Instead, I am referring to how Harvard students, like workaholic professionals, seem to have time only for work, be it academic or extracurricular. “Social time”—hanging out with friends—has to be “scheduled in,” often weeks in advance. People too often ask  friends to grab lunch only to be told without irony, “Let me check my G-cal and get back to you.” Marissa A. Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo, would be horrified at the measly amount of interaction occurring between Harvard students. If she thinks the lack of “communication and collaboration” among Yahoo employees is a problem, I tremble to think of her reaction to the anti-social atmosphere of this campus.

This may seem like an obvious statement—just an everyday fact of life here at Harvard. Everyone is busy, and everyone is excited and dedicated to various schoolwork and activities. It is a wonderful characteristic of our university that so many people are passionate about all the different things that they're doing. Getting A’s in classes, dancing some fabulously strange dances at Ghungroo, and attending every Phillips Brooks House Association open house all rightly receive our full attention and intensity. However, when it comes to making time for friends, we fall short. This is a mistake.

College life—the opportunity to live with all your friends and see them each and every day—never happens again. The older we get, the harder it will be to find time to just chat and coexist. Families, work, and in my probable case, caring for my obese cats, will start to take precedence in later years as friendships start to exist for weekends and special occasions. Here and now at Harvard, we have the opportunity to engage with our friends in unstructured ways; yet this is usually the last thing we're thinking about. I mean, these are supposed to be the best years of our life, man.

I’m not arguing that Harvard students should stop working hard or forsake all activities on campus. But I do think it would be valuable to stop behaving as if we’re all on the fast track at Goldman Sachs. That p-set is still going to get done even if you go to brain break for fifteen minutes. Who says that if you don't comp every single publication on this campus and fail to attend every IOP study group, you will be earmarked as a loser for the rest of your life? One trip to Pinkberry is not going to throw your political career under the bus. Although it seems like there is absolutely no time, such a characterization is untrue. We do have time. And we could all put in the effort to make a little more.

You may ask yourself why this even matters. We go to Harvard to learn and to succeed, not to shoot the breeze and banter. It matters for two reasons.

Firstly, we need haphazard human as well as sterile electronic connections to enrich our lives and keep a sense of perspective in such a high-stress environment. There is so much neurosis at Harvard that more downtime with friends can only help dial back our anxiety. With all the recent talks about mental health, I cannot help but wonder if we might be a little less stressed if only we spent more time talking to each other rather than typing in earnest.

Secondly, some of the best ideas come from schmoozing. Just bantering about something random may trigger one of those eureka moments of uncalculated innovation. It was a casual remark by a Microsoft guy that got Steve Jobs moving quickly on the Pad. Friends can inspire you in ways big and small, sometimes even with an irreverent comment or offhand joke. As Marissa Mayer noted in her memo to Yahoo employees, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.” Although many of her employees may have been furious, I think in time they will agree with her wisdom.

If we all make a little more effort with each other, I think our lives on campus will improve significantly. And this means real effort, not a text with a grinning monkey emoji. (Is that supposed to be a signal that you want to get dinner?) The constant refrain of “too busy” should be abolished from our vocabulary. Many years from now, looking back, we will regret it if we spent these years glued to our laptops instead of each other. As John Lennon once sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Isabel H. Evans ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is an English concentrator living in Adams House.

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