The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 45.0°F | Light Rain


What? Where? Who?

Guest Column
Roy Esaki

Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? Oh. I had a friend who was from there. Where are you temping? Oh, really? Do you know Joe? -- he’s temping there too. Oh. Well, it’s been nice talking to you -- I’ll see you around. What was your name again? Right, right.

We Cantabrigian neophytes have become quite proficient performers in the past couple of days, dutifully and meticulously following the pattern of our choreographed introductory pleasantries. We’re supposed to get out and meet new people, make connections, scope out potential alliances (to supplement those made during pre-orientation), and be especially amiable during orientation. To this end, we insightfully ask the requisite introductory questions, not caring that we won’t remember, or care, where Steve (or was it Brian) from Kansas is temping.

Granted, this idle banter is partly justified. The venues of possible discussion are rather limited; spontaneously initiating an intellectual exchange with the next person in line on the moral imperative for the social contract can be difficult at times. Occasionally, we do meet people from exotic locales and come up with thoughtful follow-up questions about their place of origin. And, of course, once we settle into classes, there will be vastly more opportunities for meaningful conversations.

Still, I can’t bring myself to happily accept being even a temporary marionette of social convention and a member of the flock of sheep. We’ve talked to countless people, but I’m not sure how many people we have actually met through these enthusiastic efforts to meet random people. Having taken the initiative to talk to the person sharing the elevator, what have we gained from this two-minute conversation?

Yes, these brief encounters could facilitate further, deeper, and perhaps even long-lasting interactions if we happen to meet the person again in the elevator. Whether this crucial re-encounter will occur, however, is independent of our desire to be more amiable or our initiative.

For the time being, who we get to know, alas, is more a function of serendipity than initiative. Pre-orientation and Orientation groups, roommates, and fellow dormmates are randomly determined, and these groupings unavoidably serve as both the catalyst and the substrate for current relationships.

By and by, we will be empowered to determine and shape our environment, as we choose our residence circumstances, our classes, and our team and club involvements. Even still, however, circumstances beyond our control -- be it fate, determination, or the cumulative effects of random conditions -- abound.

The lottery system for classes and housing, whether bids are offered, and whether the meeting times conflict with other commitments, will limit the efficacy of our personal initiative and judgments.

Thus, if our eager efforts to extend superficial introductions to all we meet are but desperate struggles to assert our free will through personal initiative, we should all strive to break the established pattern of formalities; we should strive to say something memorable and impressionable, if not brilliant. Oh, by the way, my name was Roy ... don’t worry; I forgot your name too.

Roy Esaki is a member of the Class of 2004.