My alarm clock goes off faithfully at seven o'clock every morning. It’s usually when it's still dark outside, when streets are uncharacteristically quiet, and when pedestrians are, to my dreamy eyes, amorphous silhouettes. I crawl languidly out of bed, half-consciously grab my phone from the corner of my desk, and tap the Gmail icon on the screen that always has a red 100+ icon on its upper right corner. Each week, I receive emails from the same places: the Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Butler Circulation Desk, the newspapers that I subscribe to, my clubs, my classes, the minutiae of daily attendings—over and over and over again—until they all start to look the same.
These emails paint a picture of my college life. A morning briefing from the New York Times finds me pushing myself to stay in sync with the ever-changing world. A lecture preview from the Heyman Center reflects my inner humanities aficionado roaming campus in pursuit of any lecture that catches his eyes. An "item available notice" from the Butler Circulation Desk uncovers my habit of borrowing too many books and leaving them to fossilize in my dorm. The newsletter from the Career Center reflects the last bits of the practical gene in me. And the emails from the Office of University Life about Wellness Workshops and Getting Things Done groups—is there an unsubscribe option?
These emails, boring and repetitive and mundane as they seem, matter a lot to me. My mailbox functions like an interactive calendar. Almost every email ultimately corresponds to a block of time marked on my schedule. There are some emails which go directly into my calendar, like those about office hours and club meetings. But most emails give me a vague sense of discomfort; I know they mean time commitments, but I can’t get them quantified.
An email from Spec containing the pitch for my next feature article initiates a cascade of time commitments—the pitch leads to interviews, which lead to meetings and transcribing, which leads to writing, editing, and getting published. That one initial email ends up expanding into a whole universe of action items.
I think about these emails the same way I think about life at Columbia. Every week I spend here is just as routine as each email: classes, essays, and hanging out, with some naps in between. Most of the time, I’m oblivious to which week of the semester it is since they all feel the same.
But what about my odd dreams, wild aspirations, and turbulence of emotion? My bursts of whims, clamorous memory, and promises to self—the parts of me that lie outside the margins of these messages? My emails paint me to be flat and tedious: a laborious college student, a robot with tasks to complete. They encourage me to filter life through quantifiable achievements: my number of courses, clubs, or internships. It is as if I exist in order to fulfill certain prescribed roles and complete certain tasks. Staring at my emails, I feel like a meeting point of data and responsibility, a kind of soulless utilitarian calculator with no humanity left in me.
My emails may reflect my schedule, but they don’t make me who I am. A cacophony of ideas flutter through my mind, but I can hardly jot down even some of them. My strands of thought certainly don't form as straightforwardly as my emails often suggest. I am a daydreamer and I easily lose focus while working: writing a Contemporary Civilization paper but thinking of a possible summer vacation destination, sitting in a late afternoon class but entertaining thoughts for dinner. Even just walking across campus, there are so many petty or serious thoughts that enter my mind that emails can’t reflect. My inner self is what I have in addition to my mailbox, and what gives my life its concrete texture—what makes my life a flowing stream of thoughts and feelings and pursuits instead of a dull checklist.
To keep my emails from filling my entire life, I’ve started to keep diaries. In these pages, I record my reflections on the books I read, plans for summer vacation, feelings about personal relationships, and sometimes even an interesting quote I find. My diary preserves my most private self. It is my way of wielding my subjectivity against the encroaching effect of my mailbox.
I think my email and diary represent two ways of seeing life. My emails are a never-ending running race. New termini are constantly set up, and my only goal is to run to the next and the next and the next terminus. My diary presents an ebbing and flowing narrative, in which I go through twists and turns, ups and downs, not really trying to reach any concrete destination at all.
My college life is made up of colored blocks on a calendar and items on the checklist waiting to be crossed; there is no time to waste. Yet, in reaching a balance between the mechanical and artistic filters of life, I have started to come to terms with the college life, which contains in itself a plethora of contradictions.
An irony: As I'm writing this Eyesight criticizing the mechanization of life, I'm doing the exact same thing I'm criticizing. After I finish, I will tick off another item from my checklist and reply to the email from my editor. And maybe tonight, my first experience writing an Eyesight will go into my diary, and writing a diary will soon become the new priority on my checklist. And isn't this article my diary entry about my email? I guess that in the end, I'm not good at separating the two.
Enjoy leafing through our second issue!