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Too much stimulation

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Sunday, April 6, 2008

As I’m writing this, I’m in the LaFortune computer cluster; backpack on the floor beside me – three pockets open – umbrella tightly folded in case of rain, notebook open on the left with research notes, haphazardly added as they strike me, a to-do list for before summer break poking out beneath the double-sided scribbles of lecture notes. While writing that first sentence, I re-checked my e-mails twice, opened my Facebook and checked the final score of last night’s Braves game.My laptop back in the room has two browsers open right now – one with seven tabs, the other with five. Each has been open for days. Turning off my computer completely has become too risky; I might lose those tabs of interest that I would have looked at right away had I time and they are obviously too important to delete.My planner has meetings every night. Two, three, one during the day. The coffee I spilled on the bottom half permeates through March and past the first two weeks of April. The crinkled pages left in its wake renders flipping from week to week much more difficult than it was only a few months ago. June’s blank pages seem so far away.Our TV set is old. But not much older than the ones where you can put a screen inside of the screen – in case just one program, one game is not enough action for you. I wanted to watch a baseball game last night, which I used to be content to only watch, maybe talk or eat, but not do anything else for those two and a half hours. Last night, I watched the opening pitch, the first half of an inning, then pulled out my laptop to answer some e-mails for work, then pulled out a book for tomorrow, read a few pages, decided that was distracting, took out an article for the same class, didn’t get past the first double-sided sheet, called my mom, went to the bathroom, started looking up plane flight prices for this summer, then realized that it was time for mass and I hadn’t gotten anything done. Should I panic? Should I skip it? Will I sit during the homily and only think of how much stuff is in my room, piled on the desk, waiting for my attention?My attention. There’s a laugh. When’s the last time I actually spent longer than an hour on anything?I’m getting hungry. Maybe I’ll walk up to the Huddle and get a snack?How many browsers are open on your computer? How many browsers are open in your brain? We finish one meeting, finish one class, catch up with one friend, read half of two articles from the paper, read the first five pages of that chapter of the book for class, watch an hour-long sitcom (don’t even try to sit down for a feature-length movie unless you bring work to do while watching). No wonder we all go straight to the comics – there are only three total, not too many words, and it might be the only time all day that you finish something! (I just checked my e-mails again. One new.)I went to a dinner last week and at our table sat one of Notre Dame’s long-tenured professors. A good-natured, agreeable man, he somehow seemed to find, throughout our two hour-long evening together, various topics of complaint regarding the Notre Dame student body. Heading the list was our ignorance to the Classics. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated inside – I read many of those in high school, I’m not stupid or unintelligent; how could a whole generation slip under the dumb mat? Aren’t our SAT scores at Notre Dame rising, anyways? But then I thought back. When I read “A Tale of Two Cities,” it was the middle of cross country season, which meant I was also playing club soccer. I probably had NHS meetings after school that week, youth group and Church, maybe a fundraiser for student government and a rehearsal for an orchestra concert. I probably was reading at least two other books for class, the paper in the morning, a novel at night, and writing my sister a letter. Now, I don’t remember Dickens. I don’t remember the letter. I don’t know what we played at the concert, or who the fundraiser benefitted.When we don’t stop, when we praise busy schedules, when we look down upon nine hours of sleep a night as lazy or loser-ish (do you really want to leave the party that early?), we lose the benefits of what we are doing. We lose the reason behind why we are doing it as well. Twenty minutes of nothing – really nothing, I mean; no sleep, no TV, no computer, no roommate, no phone, no food – shouldn’t be unapproachably radical. As processing, thoughtful human beings, we need time to allow all that we’re learning, all that we’re absorbing, to actually sink in. Otherwise, the knowledge superficially skims the topmost levels of our ratiocination.One German word captures it perfectly: “überlegen.” It literally means “to lie above,” but translates to letting it sit for a while so you can think – “sleeping on it,” in effect. I always picture a brain, with the thought in question hovering above, cloud-like, until it develops to the point in which it can gradually percolate through the brain’s wrinkles. Don’t just study, go to meetings, to class, then volunteer work. Take some time between, do nothing, and “überlegen” it. Otherwise, why are you learning if only to forget?

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a sophomore German and History major. She’s gotten four new e-mails since that second sentence. Still hungry – wait, didn’t I call someone for lunch? You can e-mail her, too, at jmirando@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.