Connection and Ideas

This is a bit of a followup on my previous post. After ranting about the degree requirements, I realized I had entirely neglected one of the worst things about how this semester is structured: I hardly see my classmates anymore. In previous semesters, thanks to the abundance of linguistics courses, we all saw one another regularly, developed cliques and friendships, and always had people to talk to about school and about linguistics.

Unfortunately, none of my classmates are taking the same classes that I am, so I also end up sitting in classes where I know nobody, feeling disoriented and isolated like in the first weeks of my first semester. We’re all still more-or-less in touch… But everyone’s very busy, and although I still regularly see some of my classmates, it’s not nearly as often as it used to be.

I think this might be more than just a bit of a discomfort for us third-years. It seems like a deeper design flaw in the program. It just so happens I saw a TED talk last night where Steven Johnson talks about where good ideas come from. A big point is that they tend to come from informal interaction in which different people’s thoughts meet and mix. Thinking back on the most excited ideas me and my friends have come upon during our studies, most of them truly seem to have come up either at bars or in living rooms. And this semester? We’re not all working on the same things anymore and we don’t see each other all that often. Studying isn’t only less fun this way, it’s also less creative and produces less interesting thoughts and insights.

I also saw another TED talk last night which seems vaguely relevant to all this, and I felt was very worth watching: Dr. Brené Brown on Connection. (Hat tip to Don Berg.) It’s a curious talk in that Dr. Brown starts by talking about how “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” and ends with advice that could have almost come from a New Age mystic. But coming from a serious researcher who has been examining the issue for years, it makes quite a different impression.

I can only recommend watching it. I’ll leave you with that for the time being.