January 24, 2007: On the Campus

Illustration: Hal Mayforth (www.mayforth.com); Photo below: Hyunseok Shim ’08

Forecast: Flurries of e-mails

By P.G. Sittenfeld ’07

With spare time suddenly available during the winter recess, one of the first things overcommitted students address is their backlog of unanswered e-mails. While there’s no official data on how many e-mails students receive in a semester, this much is clear: It’s a lot.

The amount of e-mail is so great, in fact, that outgoing Undergraduate Student Government President Alex Lenahan ’07 won the office in no small part by referencing his role in increasing students’ inbox quotas. “E-mail, more than phoning or anything else, is our dominant form of communication,” said Lenahan, who helped increase capacity fivefold, from 40 megabytes to 200 megabytes, while serving as a Class of 2007 senator. Lenahan admits there was personal motivation for the increase: He has received between 100 and 200 e-mails daily since taking over as president a year ago.

Naturally, a lot of incoming e-mails — many students say more than 50 a day — means a lot of e-mail checking. How many times per day do students peruse their inboxes? “Oh my God, I don’t know if I can count that high,” said Alexis Tucker ’08. Like most students, Tucker is on several e-mail listservs for extracurricular activities; among them, her dance company, her eating club, and the Black Student Union.

Tucker distinguishes herself by reading every e-mail she receives. Annie Erdman ’07 says she deletes roughly 10 percent of her non-spam e-mails without ever opening them.

Students prove particularly finicky about their quota space being taken up with “unworthy” e-mails, and a certain inbox etiquette has developed: Make it relevant or funny, or don’t send it at all.

These unwritten rules don’t apply just to students. Although most University officials’ e-mails are all-business in tone, some opt for a more attention-grabbing approach.

Associate Dean of the College Richard Williams put the following subject heading on a thesis-related e-mail he sent to the entire senior class earlier in the year: “Dean W sez ‘READ THIS ... OR RISK THE RAPID ONSET OF EXCRUCIATING ACADEMIC HEARTBURN!!!’” The opening line was addressed to “THE TRANSCENDENTLY MAGNIFICENT CLASS OF 2007.” In another e-mail subject heading about research funding, Williams wrote, “Dean W sez ‘Let me show you the MONEY!’”

All those exclamation points and capital letters pay off. Seniors uniformly confirm that Dean W commands an attentive e-mail audience.

While forecasters are confident of continued e-mail flurries, less predictable is the arrival of winter weather. In what was an unusually mild season through mid-December, the campus had yet to encounter its first snowfall. But it didn’t take a powder-dusted Princeton to jump-start the holiday spirit.

Christmas came early to Old Nassau during the final week of first-semester classes. The Wednesday before students headed home, Frist Campus Center served up free bread pudding, hot chocolate, and eggnog (sans spirits). Also as part of the festivities, students could join in a knitting class or listen to carolers sing seasonal classics. Later that night, the University Chapel hosted a service of “Lessons and Carols” for the entire Princeton community.

“As students are stressed out writing papers, I appreciate the way the University makes things feel more festive and cheerful,” said Milana Zaurova ’09, who was multitasking a 15-page Spanish final in Frist while enjoying the holiday celebration. “I’m not sure the atmosphere was good for productivity,” she noted. “I was distracted every two minutes by some new delicious smell.”

Many of the eating clubs decked their halls with wreaths, holly, and Christmas trees. Some clubs hung mistletoe, which — surprise, surprise! — inspired more smooching during Bacchanalian evening fetes than daytime meals.

Among students’ favorite seasonal rituals is the exchange of “Secret Santa” gifts that place a premium on humor and creativity, rather than lavish spending. James Burgess ’09 described his purchase for a Secret Santa recipient as “a giant hunk of meat for four bucks from Wal-Mart.”

Burgess, in turn, received a chocolate bar and holiday-themed cookie cutter — selections tamer than he might have wished. Still, the spirit of the exchange was more about giving: “It’s always a good way to clear out a lot of the weird crap in my dorm room under the pretense of a gift,” Burgess said. end of article

P.G. Sittenfeld ’07 is an English major from Cincinnati, Ohio.

MORE ON THE CAMPUS online, click here: “Language trailblazers,” by Joy Karugu ’09


To read our exclusively online On the Campus column, click here.


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