Nothing left to discuss
Reflections on an inability to break the silence
I’ve recently tried to break my terrible habit of arriving everywhere 15 minutes late — or, as I’ve grown to affectionately call it, Indian Standard Time. Even if it requires a passionate power-walk down McCormick Road, I do what it takes to make it to my lectures and discussions on time and, sometimes, I’m even early.
Now, these newfound early arrival times are never really an issue in lectures. It’s actually preferred. I can nab a seat that isn’t in Siberia, encroaching on the TA’s elbow room or blocking the stairs. In discussions, however, I have found this can be quite problematic.
Full disclosure: I have sedatephobia. That’s a fear of silences for those of you who are not as scientifically inclined — okay, Google inclined — as I am. Because of this fear, those five minutes before class are excruciatingly terrifying for me.
I sit there, trying my best to mind my own business, but I soon realize there’s close to nothing to do if I don’t have anyone to talk to. Everyone else looks so occupied — as if they are consumed in the most important task of their lives.
Some people are having intense, fingers-flying-across-QWERTY-keyboards text conversations. That’s just not an option for me because the only text I have waiting in my inbox to reply to is my mom’s “I miss you and still remember you as the little girl with the bowl cut.”
There are those who are on their laptops, watching Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” on loop — uncomfortable — or managing 17 Facebook conversations, which I’ve already established I’m not popular enough for. Also, my laptop is probably almost dead at this point from my earlier productivity — meaning BuzzFeed and watching four episodes of “30 Rock.”
Others are studying. Catching up on the reading I most likely haven’t done myself. That option is clearly preposterous.
Then, there are the people who are staring pensively into space, having what I’m sure are contemplative, philosophical musings. Or they’re reliving their great hookup from their previous night’s rendezvous. Or they’re sleeping with their eyes open.
Of course, I cannot forget the one guy furiously picking his nose in the middle of the classroom, unaware that he has an audience of more than 15 people. If this is you, please stop. I just ate.
My point is, everyone is enraptured in his or her own activities. The moment they enter the room and take a seat, they choose their pastime of choice and the impenetrable bubble is formed. Getting past it is something I now consider less feasible than crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Sitting with some spare time before a discussion, my thumbs too physically exhausted to twiddle, I decided to strike up a conversation with the girl next to me. She looked nice enough, so, in the least creepy way possible, she seemed like a pretty good target.
Ten heads immediately turned around with such vengeance and fury, my immediate reaction was to be fearful of fractures. Luckily for me and my nonexistent lawyer, no such injuries materialized — but I was immediately inundated with hate vibes headed my way.
Rookie first-year mistake.
The poor girl I tried to converse with gave me a feeble smile and ducked her head so she would never have to make eye contact again. The others, finally over the atrocity, went back to their bubbles. I, not having a bubble originally, made my own and thought about the anger my one word had just created.
I’m not entirely sure when this happened, but social interaction is no longer a thing. We don’t talk to each other. We hide behind our keyboards and screens, and it is becoming harder and harder to break away from them. Clearly, those who try are shamed.
When did we become so afraid of some friendly small talk? As a person who likes to talk, laugh and meet new people, this is really disappointing. It’s truly sad we are so absorbed in the people who aren’t with us, we don’t make time to appreciate the people who are.
Instead of starting a social revolution right then and there, though, I took to my own screen in my next discussion and found something to do in those daunting five minutes. You’re reading it right now.
Sumedha’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at email@example.com.