Word on the Street (Or Not)

While crossing the road at the Schwarzman intersection last Tuesday, I spotted a student waving at their friend and getting violently aired. (The British define this as “to intentionally ignore someone.”) 

This was the result of the “I don’t see you” game every Yale student plays while getting to class. It involves switching fields of vision from “panoramic” to “tunnel” to avoid saying “hi” to acquaintances. I believe the main reason we act that way is based on pure efficiency. We do not want anything—or anyone—disrupting our stride. However, as I observed students lowering their heads and hurrying past one another in the middle of the street, the absurdity of the situation was revealed before my eyes. The Schwarzman intersection functioned as an eye-opening focal point, magnifying the irrationality of this internalized social dynamic we all participate in. But what was it about these three converging roads that unveiled our tendency to put efficiency above all else, including human interactions? I thought back to my own experiences crossing at this intersection and remembered the efficiency paradox.

On Tuesdays, I have three classes back-to-back, with only 10 minutes to get from one to the other. I end up in a situation where minutes really count. This translates to loud music, speed walking in determination, and avoiding people. I used to believe the embodiment of that efficient commute was the diagonal crossing at the intersection of Prospect, College, and Grove. You gain time from that diagonal, however dangerous it may be. And every second is vital, since the time to cross is unbelievably short.

However, as I became a regular crosser, I came to the realization that if the initial “efficient crosswalk” concept is genius, it ends up turning against itself. Some sort of efficiency paradox. First, the light. Since the crossroad must consider 2,362 streets at once, it takes ages (and by that, I mean minutes) to turn green, and impatient people get restless. Even worse, diagonal crossing makes the “I don’t see you” game instantly harder. If you dodge people in the street on the way to the crossroad, they inevitably end up waiting at the red light next to you. If you attempt to ignore their presence by looking straight ahead, you might inadvertently make eye contact with an acquaintance on the opposite side. There is no escape.

As a response to the efficiency paradox, instead of just looking up and saying hi, we Yale students use our intelligence and engage in an intricate dance of zigzagging to avoid making eye contact and keep our speed-walk going. This appears strange for any third party, especially because the zigzag-diagonal combo plays out strangely and often inefficiently, causing people to bump into each other.

Thus, the Schwarzman intersection, which upon first glance serves as the epitome of efficiency, turns into the opposite and makes our social dodging behavior even more apparent. It is easy to be invisible on the street, but harder when you are in the middle of the road. Especially when the intersection concentrates two-thirds of the Yale population. I therefore decided that if I was getting thrown into that pit of social overstimulation, I might as well commit to it. Now, I do not fear getting aired like that student was by his friend. 

I will not let the efficiency paradox get to me, and I will conquer the Schwarzman intersection one wave at a time. I’ll just start when I find the time.

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