Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: December 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Walking...Scratch That...Texting in a Winter Wonderland

Happy Winter Break, everyone!

We actually made it. I think I was in shock for the first couple of days, but Winter Break is actually here to stay…at least for a couple of weeks. Time to catch up on sleep, see family, and…oh yea, start studying for comps./write those papers you wanted to submit to a conference or journal/start your research for that big project you're planning on presenting/etc. etc.
Ah, the life of a grad. student. The work just never ends, does it?
Usually, though, what I find most exhausting over Winter Break is also what I find most enjoyable: catching up with all my friends. You know, those friends that you left behind at home (or, in my case, hid from in my hobbit/hermit hole) for 3 months or so? Trying to see everyone in 3 weeks and still be productive is pretty difficult, and actually succeeding means going back to work and school just as exhausted as you left it.
And, just as exhausting in some ways, is getting in touch with all those friends you’ve missed in the first place.
Do you call them? Do you Facebook them? Do you text them? So many ways to communicate before you can see them in person makes it hard to choose! What’s best? What’s most efficient? After all, we only have a few weeks!
By now, I have a general way of communicating with most people in my life. I know my former teachers who I want to do lunch with mostly prefer phone calls or emails. I know my old college friends usually do texts or Facebook. But, despite this knowledge, it always seems to be harder for me to call my old teachers than the people my age. Why? I feel like I’m more likely to interrupt something important with the teachers (since, unlike you and me, they’re in the real world and all that jazz).
Apparently, this is a more common feeling than I realized. During a recent lecture at Fordham (which no doubt happened while I was buried under a pile or two of books), Professor Deborah Tannen, a linguistics scholar, spoke about the generation gaps that emerge in uses of social media. Of course, everyone knows that, in general, young people text more than older people do. And, when my mother asks me why I’m taking the trouble to type out a question on my tiny phone instead of just calling my friend I have explained that it's “because I don’t want to bug my friend.” But I guess I just never looked at it any deeper than that.
But, when I read the article summarizing her lecture, Professor Tannen’s explanation made complete sense to me. “Young people take a different attitude toward the use of text messages than older generations do,” she explained.‘“My [Prof. Tannen’s] peers tend to view texting with alarm, disapproval and contempt. If we’re talking to a kid and they start texting somebody, it’s uniformly clear to us that that’s rude. [But] Young people consider telephone calls rude. It’s rude and intrusive to call people on the phone. The polite thing to do is to text them.’”
Unfortunately, this explanation does not help me with my internal dilemma. Knowing that millions of others my age feel the way I feel does not help me conquer those feelings; it does not help me feel more comfortable about making that phone call even when calling may be more efficient, and even when I only have a couple of weeks to see everyone I want to see (and, don’t forget, accomplish all the reading I want/need to do).
Luckily, I’m not so set in my ways about this kind of thing that it spills over from my personal life into my professional life. I know my own social media preferences probably don’t work in an office setting. But I’d like to hear more about what Prof. Tannen has to say about this. Is my generation generally able to conquer these preferences when they involve people with other preferences from other generations? Does this answer depend on each person’s level of anxiety or shyness? Have these social media preferences affected the general extrovert/introvert ratio for my generation (and I mean this as a different question than the typical “is social media bringing people closer or flinging them apart?” conundrum)?
I’m sure more research will be done on this kind of thing in the future. For now, for this Winter Break, I guess we’ll all have to figure out how to catch up with our old friends on our own.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season and, if you’re in NYC, that you’re enjoying the snow!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Inevitable End

The end of the semester…it’s really here. And yet the light of the end of the tunnel still seems so dim. Even when most people can say, whether they have been taking tests or writing papers, “two down and one to go,” the end seems both too close and too far…impossible to finish in the short time, impossible to last through the hours and hours that yet remain until break.
Facebook has gotten out of control. SNL videos are being posted right and left, and their humor (or lack thereof) subsequently debated. Threads discussing the similarities between comic book heroes and novel protagonists reach 20 comments or more. In between paper-writing spurts, when I hit a wall on Friday night, I debated the merits of Battlestar Galactica’s Laura Roslin’s (*fictional*) presidential decisions with a classmate…before I realized that said classmate was a lawyer and I was just going to think my ability to form an argument had disappeared if I kept trying. For those of you swamped in numbers, I’m guessing that going to CVS and trying to calculate how much money you would have saved if you had remembered to bring your rewards card seems more appealing than studying right now. Basically, at this point, any sort of work seems more appealing than that dreaded last thing you have to get through before break. But when you realize how eerily similar your chosen avoidance tactic is to the work you’re supposed to be doing…you panic a bit before you go back to work.
But break is almost here. I just keep trying to tell myself that. I am currently projecting myself into a relaxed and un-nauseated future. And, as I try to get through this last paper, I just think to myself: “This is the last time you will have to write three crazy papers at the end of a semester. Next semester at this time, you will have only one paper to write. You can do this! *PUUUUUUSH*!” Then, of course, I ask my subconscious why it sounds like a midwife and remember that until March I’ll be studying my butt off for comps but, hey, don’t question your internal motivation tactics, right?
Something that has helped me a little in my panicked state is thinking how much worse the professors have it than we do. Yes, you can say that they assigned all the work in the first place, but that’s the nature of the system that we were all deluded enough to sign up for. After we hand in those final papers and take those final tests, they still have to grade all of them. And then they have to wait for and face their own test results, the course evaluations. Then they have to prepare for next semester’s classes over break. And that’s on top of all the other stuff (which I discussed somewhat in one of my previous posts) that keeps them constantly working.
I don’t think this is a “misery loves company” strategy. That’s what Facebook is. That’s what you do with your peers. I think this is a case of “if they can do it, I can do it.”  It’s inspirational! Or at least I’d like to think so.
Next time I “see” you all, it will be Winter Break! And we will all be much happier. Good luck finishing up the semester, everyone! See you on the other side.

Monday, December 13, 2010

“We’re all in the same (sinking) boat.” Or, in other words, “Get on the Panic Train! Toot toot!”


The above title is taken directly from recent Facebook posts in threads I have participated in, and refer to GSAS finals season. For every minute I spend writing my papers (and I suspect the same could be said for those of you studying for exams), I spend an equal or greater amount of time on Facebook. “How can you function that way? How can you concentrate?” my dad asked me last night when I went home for a change of scenery (I was going stir crazy sitting in one room writing for 3 days straight).
“Well...It lets me know I’m not alone.”
And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Usually, around 1 or 2am, about 27 of my friends are on Facebook chat. This means about 30 other people I know are definitely awake and either Facebook stalking or working like I am. As the hours go on, the numbers dwindle. I often go to bed late. I seem to work better when everyone else in my house is asleep. For some reason, I am a nocturnal being. I see the numbers dwindle to about 6 people by 4am.
Not so during finals time. Last night, at about 2am, 70 of my friends were on Facebook chat. 70! I’m not sure I even know that many people at Fordham. This group of 70 obviously included some of my friends who are still at college, and currently going through the same terror of finals. So it’s still obvious that the number peaked because of the time of year. And, what makes this even more obvious, and something I think is much more prominent for grad. students than undergrads., is the constant back and forth and commiserating on statuses and wall posts that flourishes at this time in the semester. Maybe it’s more common for grad. students because we have more work. Or maybe it’s simply that, within each program, there’s so much overlap between people taking the same classes that little virtual support groups form more easily. I’m not sure. But I’m sure I never see this much Facebook activity except during finals time, and I’m sure I see much more of it in grad. school than I did in undergrad.
And, honestly, I don’t know how I’d get through all this work without Facebook. Without being distracted from my own miserable paper-writing existence by reaching out and supporting others who are in the same position. Without trying (and failing) to say something wittier and funnier than my impossibly brilliant friends. The humor is so necessary, I think, and the way I get that release is through Facebook. I know, that’s kind of sad. How dependent can you get? But, living off campus as most grad. students do, I can’t commiserate by just walking down the hallway and complaining to someone that my eyes feel like they’re going to explode. We have to connect on Facebook. And the more stressful the semester, the more I need the (again, virtual) company. You get solidarity in psychosis.
As we all slowly reach our breaking points, I’m sure we’ll all also reach the peak of entertaining Facebook statuses. So I say: Thank God for Facebook. It’s the medium by which we all save each other.
PS Feel free to save each other via this Blog post too!

Monday, December 6, 2010

“How Shall I Put This?”: The Dangers of Acadamese

ac•a•de•mese: æk ə dəˈmiz,-ˈmis,əˌkæd ə [ak-uh-duh-meez, -mees, uh-kad-uh-] –noun. pedantic, pretentious, and often confusing academic jargon: a presumably scholarly article written in incomprehensible academese.

December has arrived (internal screaming may begin here). So, now that we must confront this monstrosity, let’s talk about how we can get through this successfully…shall we?

I’m not sure about all of you, but as an English major I don’t have any final exams. I have what, to many (including those suffering under the specific burden), seems worse: papers. Upon papers. Upon papers. And papers are exactly where the Acadamese Monster (see above...and yes, that is a chocobo) is most likely to attack.

I’d guess that almost everyone who goes to grad. school, and even most undergrads, have heard the term “acadamese.” In case you don’t know though, and in case the above definition doesn’t help: remember when you were assigned your first critical work in college (mine was in an Anthropology class) and you had no idea what the author was saying? You probably thought you were stupid. You probably thought to yourself “Oh my God, maybe I’m really stupid and don’t deserve to be at this school.” But you were wrong. This is definitely a clear case of “it’s not me, it’s you.” That scholar was writing in acadamese. It’s not your fault it was unintelligible! In fact, he may have only been published because nobody could understand him but they were all too embarrassed to admit it. Or maybe they thought a lack of clarity  meant he must be brilliant. Who knows? In any case, totally not your fault.

What would be your fault would be slipping into this form of writing yourself. And, sadly, many people do. If you don’t stay on your guard, you’ll turn into that guy you didn’t understand your freshman year in college. And it’s not because you got smarter…it’s because you got bitten by the Acadamese Monster. I used to see this when I worked in the Writing Center with undergrads all the time. I’d read a completely convoluted sentence from the paper we were working on out loud, ask the tutee what she meant, and she would then proceed to explain the same concept to me in completely clear and normal language. “Why didn’t you just say that?” I’d ask.

“Because I didn’t think it sounded smart enough,” was the inevitable reply.

Now, this writer in the Chronicle who was complaining about acadamese recently is a little extreme, in my opinion. She thinks signing emails using “Cheers” counts as acadamese, as does using “shall.” I don’t quite agree with her there. But she does, at one point, give the best and most concise advice I’ve ever heard on how to avoid this trap. Instead of simply saying “write it down like you would say it,” or something to that effect, she says: “Make it correct and precise for your field, but think a little about sounding like yourself—the best version of yourself.”

Of course, nobody sounds exactly like themselves when they write. Writing is automatically more formal—you have to think more about it, so it tends to be a bit more eloquent than your everyday speech would be. But you should sound like a “version” of yourself. If you’ve erased yourself entirely, then you’re probably sounding like that crazy scholar that nobody understands (remember him?). The best writing, even academic writing, maintains something of the writer’s personality. That’s what makes it interesting to read!

By thinking about this I’ve realized something: writing this blog is probably a great exercise for me. I can write my papers this month (OMGONLYTWOMOREWEEKSTOWRITEEVERYTHING *breathe*) worrying about one less thing. I have a defense against the Acadamese Monster. I’ve been practicing writing with a voice all semester long!

So, new advice for December: If you need to procrastinate, do it productively. Start a blog! :)