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The Art of Memorizing Names

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

With finals week finally coming to a close, I can’t help pondering the memorization abilities of the college student species. An entire semester’s worth of information is crammed in the brain until that glorious moment when the exam paper is handed from student to teacher, like the passing of an Olympic torch. This is all accomplished during the duration of one week or less, and multiplied by five or six classes–all within that same week. How is so much information sorted and retained in such a short period of time?

To address this question, I thought about how other information is memorized by the college student species. Specifically, I reflected upon the praxis of name memorization. Every day, college students meet at least one new person–a classmate who needs to borrow a pen, a peer sharing your table in the overcrowded dining hall, a housemate’s cute friend she brought home… We constantly pass new faces, and are constantly bombarded with new names to match those faces–names which we are expected to remember. (After all, how else can we look them up to add on Facebook)? Sorting and retaining all these names can be challenging, especially when these new faces are only encountered occassionally: that is when the art of memorizing names comes in.

Personally, I have this terrible habit of making nicknames for new people I meet based on my initial impressions of them. I’ll be conversing with some new person and miss the “My name is ________” part because my brain is too busy thinking something like “Wow, this girl’s fake tan has an impressively orange pigment. She looks like she’s borderline legal midget too…makes me feel 6′. Shit, what did she just say her name is? Katie? No, no–You’re only thinking that because her phone just rang with a Katy Perry ringtone. Man, I guess I’ll just call her Ooompa Loompa Girl…” (Of course, these nicknames are never used to vocally address the person to his or her face).

So, the nickname is remembered due to the blatant association (e.g. “Ooompa Loompa Girl” matches an incredibly short girl with incredibly orange skin).  However, the actual name is never retained and therefore cannot be remembered. Even when a casual, “I’m sorry, what did you say your name is again?” is thrown into the conversation and it is discovered that Oompa Loompa Girl’s name is in fact “Melinda,” the likelihood of remembering that her name is “Melinda” is slim to none: but “Oompa Loompa Girl” will not be forgotten.

Later, with friends, these nicknamed faces will be mentioned in conversation; everyone will immediately understand which person is being described based on the associated nickname. Some may even already have the same or similar nickname for that person. Evidently, the college student species’ brains similarly process  information in this way.

The art of memorizing names emerged upon accidental coincidence that fortunately solved this error in brain processing. As usual, I missed the “My name is _______” part of the conversation because my brain was too busy mentally exclaiming the degree of resemblance this guy had to Charmander, the Pokemon. When I pulled the “I’m sorry, what did you say your name is again?” card, my eyes widened with good fortune when he responded, “Charlie.” At that very moment, he officially was titled “Charlie the Charmander.” I would therefore successfully remember to address him as “Charlie,” although I’d still refer to him as “Charlie the Charmander” with friends in order to properly identify him and distinguish him from any other Charlies they may know. Alas, a revelation occurred: create nicknames for people that are not only associated with initial impressions of them, but also with their actual names.

Since then, I have encountered new faces and successfully remembered their names due to nicknames such as Lazy-Eye Liz, Ghetto-Fab Greg, Commuter Chris, Trackie Chris, and Richy Chris. Sometimes, mnemonic devices based on associated thought trains are used instead. For example, I met these guys Louis and Chad, but my brain somehow insisted on replacing “Chad” with “Brad.” So, I sorted and properly retained their names by thinking of Louis and Clark from the Louis and Clark Expedition, and applied the “C” from the “Clark” to the “ad” from the “Brad” that I remembered, successfully resulting in “Louis and Chad.” Similarly, I had difficulty remembering that a face nicknamed “College McDude” by my friends is actually called “Jake.” So, I associated “College McDude” with the segment of Nickelodeon’s The Amanda Show called “Totally Kyle,” in which the main character, Kyle, saturates his sentences with the word “dude” in excess, the same way ditsy girls saturate their sentences with the word “like” in excess.

These tactics of the art of memorizing names may seem complicated, but they effectively accommodate the somewhat handicap  brain processes of the college student species.

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Swine Flu Endangers College Student Species

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

The other night, I encountered a party theme I had never seen before: “Swine Flu Awareness.” As we entered, we were not only handed a cup, but a medical mask as well (even though medical masks won’t even help prevent H1N1). It was creative, unique, fun, silly and the perfect representation of the Swine Flu hysteria currently circulating among the college student species.

Rumors have been spreading through colleges across the US almost as rapidly as the H1N1 virus itself has proliferated through the campuses. The Swine Flu situation is feeling so threatening that many students actually believed these rumors—that the campus would actually close Friday November 19th for Thanksgiving break rather than the Tuesday or Wednesday closing day scheduled for this week. (lolyearite). I passed by my RA’s room the other day and even saw a message written on her white board asking if school is going to shut down early because of “The Swine.” (Yes, I am embarrassed that we attend the same college).

Every week I encounter the latest updates about H1N1 in e-mails from the college health office, articles in the school newspaper, fliers on bulletin boards and explanations from teachers addressing why one third to one half of the class is missing. Hand sanitizer machines are located all throughout the campus. Bottles of Purel have joined lipstick and cell phones on the list of necessities in every girl’s purse. Cans of Lysol have become the dorm room version of the bibles you will encounter in every hotel room you visit. Facebook feeds’ statuses about having “The Swine” grow more and more common by week. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Internet ad system in Facebook starts advertising the retail sale of pigs in the right-hand column of users’ home pages.

Evading the Swine Flu is starting to feel like a real life video game…Left4Swine, or Call of Swine Flu 4: Modern Survival.  Radar systems are activated every time a nearby player sneezes or coughs. When encountering such danger, players retreat to the nearest bathroom base to gain back HP at the sink,  like the moon wells in Warcraft III. Instead of guns, players are equipped with cans of Lysol, which are sprayed at enemy germs. Orange juice is constantly consumed, like  elixir buffs in World of Warcraft. Despite their passive and aggressive strategies, though, many players nonetheless fall to the Wrath of the Swine Flu.

From the sights and sounds of “The Swine” hysteria, it seems the college student species is on its way to joining Giant Armadillos and Short-haired Chinchillas on the endangered species list.

Watching Tour Groups Watching Me

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Watching tour groups watching me provokes a rather strange sensation. The cluster of campus outsiders passes by, peering at all the current students. Those students and I turn to each other and always gasp profoundly, “Look, it’s a tour group!”—as if this guaranteed weekly sight is something we’ve never seen before.

We react to these tour groups as if they are complete strangers to our world. We comment on the terrified prospective students grasping their folders of information until their knuckles go white. We giggle at the parents who are so impressed over the charming BS spoon-fed to them by the tour guides, who are directed to pitch the school as an academic Disney Land. We stop whatever we’re doing to study these packs of intruders…(probably the only form of studying willingly performed on weekends).

Sometimes I just want to play pranks on these tour groups. I just want to dress up as a wizard and try to blend in with the group…see what happens. It’ll be like a social experiment. When the tour guide is blatantly hyping something up as much better than it actually is—like describing the wireless Internet connection as (true story) “lightning speed fast” (HA!)—I’ll open my eyes wide, drop my jaw, “wow” in awe and applaud in astonishment. When he or she asks if we have any questions, I’ll inquire if they have a major in Magic, and if the bookstore overcharges for spellbooks. When they look at me, I’ll moonwalk out of the crowd and find the most narrow tree or pole around to hide behind, pretending I can’t be seen.

Or, I just want to get a bunch of friends together to stage a giant brawl that’ll bust out as a tour group passes by…chairs violently thrown and everything. Hell, we’ll make it a traveling rumble that drags through the dorms and pathways and dining hall and campus greens and even library of the campus. I bet some of them would even join in…relieve all that frustration and boredom from listening to hours of BS all day long.

I try to imagine what I would do as a prospective student if some of the actual students conducted social experiment pranks on my tour group. But then I think back to when I really was one of those high school seniors in the tour group, and I am reminded of a key truth: the students in those tour groups are not the ones being observed—it’s us, the college students who are being observed.

College tour groups are like tour groups visiting animals at the zoo. They pass us by, observing how we behave in our natural habitats. In the dining hall, they watch as we prey on mac ‘n cheese—shoving that slice of Ellios-quality pizza down our throats a tad too forcibly as we eagerly rush to get to class. On the campus greens, they see the wild beasts at play as we condense the sport of ultimate frisbee with a blend of hockey and rugby on steroids. In the Library, they witness the cougars stalking their prey as they deceivingly pretend to type a paper while actually creeping on students’ Facebooks. In the dorm room entrances, they stare down the sad swans still swaddled in their mini dresses from the night before—heels in hand, lipstick smudged off, mascara smeared down, and eyes to the floor as they take their walk of shame.

Just imagine what we look like as we watch these tour groups watching us. There we are, sitting confidently and judgmentally as we comment and giggle over the members of the tour group. Meanwhile, they’re glaring into our cages, observing the ways of the college student species in our natural habitats. I’ve always wanted to play pranks on tour groups, but it seems the prank is on us.