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Living in a Non-time Zone

Jane Maduram and Gayani Tillekeratne


Tomorrow morning, around 3 a.m., should you happen to walk around the first floor of East Campus, this is what you will hear. Should you happen to live there, you know that this is not an isolated incident, but, rather, an ongoing ritual of questionable purpose. Why?

At MIT, time as we knew it has no relevance. Old landmarks of time, such as defining a day by the rising and setting of the sun, are trivialized by the fact that we now get up at noon and sleep at 5 a.m. Days flow into each other and out again with no concrete separation to distinguish them. Once, a long time ago, we defined seasons by the week in which we crammed for finals, but in a school where every exam feels like a final, we should have gone through 10 seasons by now. Time, of course, in the normal sense, goes on. Watches tick and alarm clocks ring, but the actual meaning of such words as hour, second, and minute have been distorted.

Before MIT we could take hold of an afternoon and claim it wholly as our own, but now we find ourselves trying to chase morsels of time and losing. For example, last Saturday, our friends and we were doing problem sets in The Coffeehouse when one of us suddenly looked at the clock. She gasped, and pointed, so we all turned around. To our horror, we realized that we had spent the whole Saturday on problem sets and that there were only 2 minutes of Saturday left. “Party!” one of us screamed. “Party before it’s too late!” We threw down our books and endeavored to find a way to party for two minutes before Sunday came. One of us gave up. And slept.

Before, we had more than enough time to spare. We could, as it were, afford to leave the Play-doh of time in their little boxes. We could allot whole boxes to things like sleeping, eating, and playing. Now, we find that we need one-sixteenth of a box for this or that problem set, but we also need the same one-sixteenth of the box to studying for the next day’s exam. Time simply won’t fit into our boxes, or our concrete landmarks, or our problem sets, for that matter. The one-sixteenth of the box that we predicted our problem set would take soon expands to taking two boxes. We are forced to take time out of the boxes we put it into, face the week as a whole, and do everything together. Time comes out of its little yellow Play-doh boxes, and the colors blend. We live life.

Physics by itself, we think, is boring, and partying, by definition at least, should be interesting, so we blend them. To stay coherent at 4 a.m. while doing 8.01 problem sets, we laugh at our caffeine jitters, laugh out ways to torture physics teachers, and then laugh some more. A friend of ours [the one who slept] said, “We like the way you guys laugh all the time. Why?” We responded, “It’s better than crying.”

So we decided that in honor of life, we would invent our own concrete landmark of a day. Every morning, at 3 a.m., one of us [the one who is more awake] stands up in front of our door, which has a countdown of days until finals. Wringing her hands and groaning, she lists the problem sets, exams, and other obstacles we had to survive, exorcizing the demons, as it were, of that day. We place our collective feelings from the day on the number, and the narrator says, “This morning, there were n days. Now, there are n-1 days.” Screaming in a primal release of frustration, accomplishment, happiness, and hatred, we obliterate the number.

Come. Scream with us.

Jane Maduram and Gayani Tillekeratne are members of the class of 2003.