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‘Endlich daheim’: Finally home

These words were tattooed on my high school math teacher’s forearm — to serve as a dual reminder of the time he spent living in Germany, but also to be thankful for his return to his personal home in the United States.

For many Notre Dame students, in an adjacent way, the acceptance letter serves a similar purpose. First comes the notification online. Elation. But when that oversized envelope comes in the mail, it is an even greater feeling. There you have it. Your own physical Notre Dame acceptance letter. It begets joy — with the subtle reminder that if you want to enroll, the $800 enrollment fee (or however much it is) is due by July 1st (or whenever it is). What then happens to that acceptance letter? Likely, it is tossed into some file somewhere to save for safekeeping. It’s something that you can be proud of — something to show your grandparents. Something concrete.

But then, as a first-year at Welcome Weekend, you’ve truly made the jump. You’ve made the necessary deposits, the necessary loan applications to the federal government, to Discover, to Sallie Mae, to whomever. You’ve journeyed far. Some of you have had to change planes a few times. But you’ve all come together here at Notre Dame, during those hot, but somehow extraordinary, last few weeks of August. You check into the dorm for the first time. The rector greets you. The Welcome Weekend staff unloads your belongings with great haste. Music blares. And what awaits you as you enter the dorm? Your own, physical, Notre Dame ID card. 

To me, this ID card was a reminder that I had truly made it. I was now a Notre Dame student. This ID card was what I had worked hard for all of high school. This ID card would open all the doors. And as a transfer, I never received one of those physical letters, so this card meant all the more. Much more than just a piece of plastic, the card was symbolic. It was something that I could keep ad infinitum — maybe, something to show to future grandchildren. 

Not to mention, this card is helpful. It is used for so many things. If I want to go for a stroll in solitude — to take a walk by the lake without feeling my phone in my pocket buzzing — I can do so. I can pray at the Grotto, just myself and the Lord, without Google/Apple/whomever calculating the number of steps I took, or my heart rate, or my location or whatever else they hope to know about me.

This card is incredibly useful. And yet, the student government administration is putting its future in jeopardy. The student government lists on their progress tracker a priority to create mobile ID cards, presumably for the betterment of student life. I argue that this plan has a great number of issues with it, and that it should only proceed if there is assurance that physical IDs will permanently remain.

Do not get me wrong. I’m in favor of mobile ID cards. I have no problems with the creation of mobile IDs. However — and call me a cynic — but I also see problems with the arrival of mobile IDs. I fear the advent of mobile ID cards will be a great excuse to eliminate the physical ones. Gone. A brief reason would be provided —similar to the one for mobile ticketing, I’d imagine (if someone wants to explain to me how mobile ticketing is safer and more contactless than physical tickets, then by all means do so. I’m pretty sure you can hold up a ticket to a barcode scanner without another person touching it). Even if physical ID cards are still an option, there’ll surely be more bureaucratic hurdles for students who want them. I highly doubt the process of receiving a physical ID will be as simple as it is now.

When I was at my former institution, they had physical IDs. But since I left, they made the decision to go to mobile IDs. I talked with my friend John back east. Speaking on the new physical IDs, he remarked, “It’s been an absolute train wreck.” My old school now has a chart on their website which details which students are, and which students are not, eligible for a physical ID. Doesn’t the existence of such a chart scream absurdity?

There are my reasons, and there are even greater reasons. Going to mobile IDs comes with the dangerous assumption that everyone has the latest technology which would support a digital ID. Until I bought a new phone in August, I wouldn’t have had the capabilities for a mobile ID on my phone. I had my prior phone for 7 years, which did not have NFC capabilities. It wouldn’t work at the Chick-fil-A. I’m not sure what my fellow Stanford man Josh Haskell would do.

Further, the University policy currently states: “All students must maintain and carry a current campus ID card for the entire period that they are affiliated with the University of Notre Dame.” So, unless the policy changes to “all students must carry with them a smartphone that is charged at all times,” I don’t see how this is possible. The idea that students would now have to carry their phones with them everywhere is unacceptable. I see no reason why I should have to bring my phone to mass. Or to the Grotto. Or class. But that would be the case if physical IDs were liquidated.

And phones die, too. Yes, maybe the NFC capabilities might still let you into the dorm, depending on how long the phone has been dead. But you still can’t show the picture of your ID when the phone invariably dies. I can only imagine the plethora of problems for NDPD.

The creation of mobile IDs only encourages more phone use. For a University that seeks to grow students in knowledge and wisdom, the student government’s policy actively contradicts this goal. We all know that the ability to engage in deep critical thinking has gone down the gurgler since “smart” phones came into existence.

And may I ask: What problem does the creation of mobile IDs solve? I haven’t heard anyone complaining of the burden of carrying a plastic card around. Yes, people might lose them from time to time, but the people who lose their ID cards constantly are the same people who break their phone 5 times a year. Physical ID cards work just fine. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

My letter in no way seeks to attack the student government or Notre Dame. Rather, I want the student government to ensure that if they pursue mobile IDs, physical IDs remain an option. Students should get a choice — and the choice should be equal, too. No gradual phase out of physical IDs. No fees for physical ID cards, either. If a student wants a physical ID, it should be just as easy as the process for a mobile ID. If it comes down to only mobile IDs or only physical IDs, I encourage the University administration to go with that is tried and true. Go with the concrete. Please, keep physical IDs for future generations of Notre Dame students. Someday you’ll pull open that junk drawer, discover that old picture of yourself at Notre Dame and you’ll smile.

Clayton Canal

senior

Nov. 29

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The flip phone experiment 

I came to Notre Dame wanting it all. I wanted incredible memories. I wanted success. I wanted to get holy, get fit and get involved. I wanted to waste no time. I knew that this experience, like high school, would fly by at an incredible pace. Like a fleeting shadow. A blink of an eye, a New York minute. Here, then gone. 

However, semester after semester, I found myself throwing those precious minutes down the drain. The time sucker? A cracked iPhone 8 in a dilapidated red phone wallet. Time and time again, I’d find that screen time app reminding me of the many hours I lost each week. 

I tried to get that number down. I really did. I set screen time restrictions, I ditched social media and I even put my phone in black and white to make it less desirable. But no matter how hard I tried, the phone would win. Even if I had a good week with phone use, a bad week would come, and I would find myself robbed of that coveted time. 

As a second semester sophomore, with everyone talking about jobs and plans and future, I heard my Notre Dame timer clicking louder than ever before. And at the dawn of 2022, I found myself having an intrusive, insane thought: What if I could eliminate the temptation altogether? What if I could simply guarantee hundreds of hours of more fun at the best place in the world? 

What if. I hate what-ifs. So I drove to Target, and I bought a flip phone. 

I originally told myself that I would try it for one month. One month, and then if I decide that I hate it, I can switch back. This was not a long term project. It was an experiment. 

Despite my doubts, here I am, nine months later, and you couldn’t force me to switch back. I love my flip phone. It’s brought me the results that I’ve always craved. My fears about the switch were illegitimate, and all of my hopes came true. 

The first immediate thing that I noticed was that I was swimming in free time. At first it was weird. I would get back to my dorm, sit on my futon, realize I had nothing to do on my phone, and then … Keep sitting on my futon. I would sit there as the minutes passed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for something to entertain me. 

Nothing ever did, so I got busy. 

I learned a few songs on the guitar. I read 14 non-school books. I spent more time laughing with my dorm friends. I studied more, I prayed more. I ate longer meals with my friends. I started walking the dorm dog, Rocco. I picked up poetry. I called my family more, I hit the gym more and I slept more. I had the time to write this essay.

I quickly found that my focus was improved without my phone’s constant interruptions. I was completely, entirely in the moment. I would find myself locking in for entire lectures. I worked faster than ever, and I was more able to attentively listen to my friends. 

I did everything that I love more and better. The flip phone increased both the quality and quantity of my favorite things about life. And throughout it all, there was not a battle that needed to take place. There was no tempting smartphone left to fight. 

The best thing about my flip phone is that it is not enjoyable to use. It’s complicated, it’s slow, it’s gross-looking. But that’s exactly why I love it. It’s there if I need it, but when I don’t, I’m as far away from that thing as humanly possible. My flip phone united my long and short term desires — I’m not constantly denying myself anymore. 

But the most groundbreaking realization did not hit me when I was happy. It hit me on a day when I was feeling particularly sad and anxious. 

I walked out of North Dining Hall on that miserable day with my head down. Normally I would have turned left, dragged myself to my room in Dillon and dove headfirst into the bottomless pit that was my smartphone. But I knew in this moment that the only thing waiting for me in that room was silence. 

Instead, I turned right. 

I headed to Stanford Hall, where some of my friends were hanging out. I walked through those doors reluctantly, but I walked through them nonetheless. I needed to cope somehow, and without my smartphone, I was left only with healthy options. I told them what was going on and they lifted me up. 

I was forced to lean on people rather than a screen. And now more than ever, I think that this vulnerability is beyond important for relationships. It has turned my friends into brothers. Rather than the emptiness I would feel after a couple hours on Instagram, I left that conversation feeling loved. I was left with the deeper desire of my heart satisfied. 

All in all, that’s what I’ve found to be the greatest superpower of the flip phone: It offers me no artificial solutions. It forces me to take the next step needed to satisfy my longings. 

When I am feeling social, I don’t send funny stuff in the group chat anymore. I set a time up to hang out and laugh with my friends. When I like a girl, I don’t text her about my bad country playlists. I set up a lunch to get to know her. When I’m tired, I don’t scroll mindlessly. I take a nap. When I long to connect with friends or family, I don’t like their Instagram post. I call them and ask them how they’re doing.

My iPhone was my Tylenol. It would numb the pain, but it would never remove it. It was like trying to pull weeds by cutting them at the tips. It made me feel like I was making progress, but it never solved the issue. My flip phone removes that artificial option, and it truly has changed my life. I’ve been forced to look my issues in the eye and find genuine solutions. 

One of the hardest things about making the switch was saying no to a good thing. My iPhone was great: It was convenient, it was entertaining and it was capable of many things. But this experiment has again taught me the importance of tradeoffs in life. 

Life with an iPhone was good. 

But this one is better. 

I’ve attached a couple relevant links below for those interested in trying the experiment. Please feel free to reach out: jhaskell@nd.edu. I am happy to talk flip phones, technology moderation or anything else! 

Two options I’d recommend: 

1) A solid flip phone for most carriers. I have had this one before. 

2) Wisephone. Very simple touch-screen phone with only a camera, maps, text, calls and a clock. My brother has this one and would recommend it. 

Some phone plans allow an immediate sim card switch, some don’t.

Joshua Haskell

junior

Oct. 26

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Earn your dopamine release

It’s too easy. I just stop looking at my work for a second to check my phone. A notification pops up. I click on it. After viewing my notifications, I want to put off work just a little longer. So eventually, I think to myself: why not check on some Celtics or Patriots news? Then, a minute break suddenly turns to 20 minutes of completely wasted time. I look up from my phone and realize what I’ve done. I feel disappointed and try to get back to work. Now, a question I’ve had a tough time addressing is why I continue this vicious cycle when I know exactly where it will lead me. Thanks to a podcast hosted by Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, with guest Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Stanford, I finally have discovered a scientific explanation of why we are inclined to waste time and ways to address it.

Think about the moments leading up to watching your favorite show or listening to the same playlist you love so much. The anticipation builds in your mind, and you probably feel a little excited. Then, you watch the show or listen to the music and it’s enjoyable as you’re doing it. However, the experience itself generally does not beat the anticipation. Once you stop watching, especially if you over-did it, you will probably feel a little down. This is all part of the dopamine cycle. The anticipation of an event raises your dopamine levels, then after it’s all said and done, your dopamine dips below baseline levels, causing a low feeling. This cycle is a leading cause of addiction in the form of drugs or even social media. In the podcast, cocaine was used as an example. When an individual uses cocaine, there is an immediate dopamine release followed by a harsh low below baseline. So, to get out of the low state and reach that high again, an addict will keep taking cocaine. A major problem with this form of dopamine release is that there is next to no sacrifice involved in attaining it. If a person wants to feel this high, he or she simply must pay for cocaine and use it. The dopamine release is too easily accessible, which causes a reliance on the drug.

Now, this issue leads into the question: What form of dopamine release should we strive for? While I wouldn’t say there is a set-in-stone ideal action we should take, Huberman and Peterson agreed that choosing activities that require some sort of sacrifice and lead toward a goal are best. It can range from higher-level goals to smaller ones. Say you want to be in great shape down the road. This means you will have to sacrifice time and effort exercising day in and day out. In that exercise, you will experience a healthy dopamine release and still have a goal to look forward to and chase as you slowly attain good health. You could also just want a clean room. So if you vacuum and do your laundry, you will enjoy a dopamine release for completing your task. In addition, you will receive the benefits of a clean room and continue enjoying releases of dopamine if you maintain its cleanliness over time. The combination of goal-setting and dopamine can also explain in part why healthier foods may taste better as you age. As a kid, eating vegetables serves no greater purpose to you and just tastes bad. However, when you are older, it is easier to view things from a deeper lens and see how vegetables lead to good health. Since your goal is no longer just good-tasting food, eating healthy is a sacrifice that leads to your larger purpose and allows you to feel the dopamine releases along the path. This creates a positive association between healthy food and how it makes you feel that did not exist as a child.

So, at this point, I’ve made a clear distinction between the positive releases of dopamine (those requiring sacrifice pointing towards a positive goal) and negative ones (easily achieved with virtually no sacrifice required at all). I think it’s great to shoot for as much of the positive side as you can, but there will have to be balance if you’re trying to shift your habits. Sticking to a long-term outlook sounds great on the surface, but it’s difficult to sustain a prolonged focus on the future without giving any attention to the desire for short-term dopamine release. To properly toe this line, you can regulate your quick releases of dopamine instead of eliminating them entirely. For example, if you have a sweet tooth and want a better diet, you could consider allowing some treats with your friends on the weekends. This could help you avoid burnout on your diet while mixing in a quick release of dopamine with a positive long-term goal of strengthening your relationships. Regardless of how you approach it, taking control of your addictions, big or small, and regulating them in a positive, repeatable manner can aid in controlling your releases of dopamine.

With that said, I urge you to take control of your dopamine cycles. Instead of allowing your dopamine spikes and lows to control you, set goals and plans that allow for healthier, sustained releases of dopamine.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston majoring in finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu.