The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 47.0°F | A Few Clouds

COLUMN

Don’t Take Penicillin Just Yet

Andrew C. Thomas

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The recent unseasonable warmth signaled the beginning of a dangerous annual epidemic that strikes people of all ages, sizes and dispositions. Unrelenting in its approach, this disease primarily causes intense loss of concentration, and a rage of hormones that prove difficult to control.

I speak, of course, of spring fever.

While freshmen from warm climates may not be completely familiar with the condition, I have little doubt that they will understand it by the end of the month. Spring fever is, simply put, triggered by a rise in temperature. This typically coincides with the ability to walk comfortably outside without a jacket on. A new feeling of release accompanies this clothing change; perhaps a mating instinct kicking in, perhaps simply the delight of being able to spend time in natural sunlight. I know I’d much prefer to tan in the sun than in the glow of my monitor.

Now, I remind you that we are in Boston, known for its wild, mercurial weather patterns. And while the weather since last Saturday has been rather unspectacular, experience and Murphy’s Law suggest that the temperature will rise and fall like mad in the near future. Without warning, this place will heat up again, and soon. And then fall back down, and then rise once again.

And herein lies the problem. Imagine firing a superball from, say, an air-powered bazooka, at the floor in a room with a low ceiling. It will ricochet off the floor and ceiling, and depending on the aim, off the walls as well, for some time before coming to rest. Not only does Boston’s daily temperature follow a pattern similar to this, but this temperature fluctuation will carry people along like a jetstream. People’s emotions tend to run wild for one sustained period, in places with a more regulated climate. If only we could be so lucky here, then we might be able to prepare for it.

The consequences of this effect will be immediately noticeable with a sharp jump in the number of assignments people will put off. Whether they choose to spend their time running along the Charles, playing soccer or frisbee, or simply watching a sunset, the ability of students to focus on work will drop dramatically. I recall an incident last year in the initial stages of spring fever where I had to lie to a TA in order to skip her class and enjoy the warm afternoon because I couldn’t bear being inside any longer. (In retrospect, she probably knew I was bluffing the whole time, and I appreciate her understanding of the situation.) I will certainly be on the watch for declining attendance in afternoon classes. (Watching in the morning would be counterproductive. People don’t need spring fever to skip 9 a.m. classes -- this particular habit is a year-round activity.)

I would like this to serve as a warning to all professors and teaching assistants. If class attendance seems to drop, if homework seems to be rushed, if essays on foreign policy tend to take a distinctly sexual turn, be understanding. I’m sure that this is an effect that hits all ages, though certainly it is more severe for teenagers and recent ex-teenagers. However, be aware that the superball effect will amplify this problem as well. From another point of view, think of it as being hit by five water balloons at different times (but you don’t know when the next one is coming), as opposed to having a bucket of water dumped on you just once. At least with the hose, there’s more of a guarantee that if you dry off now, you won’t have to do it again later.