It is frighteningly easy to get tunnel vision on a college campus.
The rush—of classes, of friends, of clubs, of work—is so powerful that, when you make it through a day, you are exhausted. The moment your head hits the pillow, you are out like a light—well, either that, or you’re up for hours preoccupied by the tortuous thought of the paper you haven’t finished yet, or that one embarrassing thing you said last year that has mysteriously come back to haunt you at this exact moment.
Either way, you generally have no time to reflect on the past 24 hours and realize that—if you’re like me—you probably spent yet another day surrounded by the same group of people, in the same buildings, working toward the same basic goal. You may even have the shocking realization that it’s been quite a while since you had any meaningful kind of interaction with someone over the age of 21—a way of life that I find kind of cool, but kind of scary at the same time.
And even though the people you tend to surround yourself with are generally wonderful, the environment is stimulating, and the goals we set for ourselves usually have good intentions, all of the sameness can cocoon you, wrapping you up so tightly that you forget about the entirely different world unfolding right outside the campus gates.
Despite keeping up to date with the news and world events, it is easy to get emotionally separated from the reality of the outside world where people are concerned with problems and questions very different from what we experience during this stage of our life. In fact, at some point our college tunnel vision makes it difficult to imagine that there actually is a next stage in our lives, where we will leave school and be thrust back into the reality of the world around us, a reality where we will really start to age and mature, eventually having experiences that are impossible to imagine right now as we frantically try to float from assignment to assignment.
The more I’ve thought about this problem of tunnel vision, the more paranoid I’ve become about trying to avoid it.
Getting too comfortable in a reality where friends are essentially an arm’s length away, and where problems can be easily brushed off as bouts of immaturity, seems like a real possibility, so how does one remember the real world that’s waiting without throwing themselves into bouts of trepidation and nervousness?
The solution I’ve come up with is people-watching.
It’s a pastime I’ve come to treasure, something that gets me completely out of my head and immersed in the lives going on around me. And having the opportunity to people-watch in a city is about as good as it gets.
To me, cities—Boston included—are these fascinating constructs where people try to distract themselves from unpleasant truths. The reality of everyday life is clumsily, and sometimes altogether unsuccessfully, crammed behind shops, and parks, and museums—places where people can distract themselves by looking through windows at beautiful things they can dream about. Watching people navigate this landscape is not only entertaining, but oftentimes illuminating.
When people-watching within such a landscape, you must choose your vantage point carefully. It must be somewhere where it’s not creepy to stare at people as they walk by, and somewhere that’s bustling, but not hectic. In Boston there are so many options—park benches, trendy coffee shops (those have the added benefit of food), T cars. The list could go on forever.
As you watch, you’ll begin to notice a pattern in the people that wander by: inevitably, there’s the young couple in love; the family; the loud group of teenagers; the brooding and disillusioned youth; the people who make you sad, happy, and melancholy.
Strangers who elicit emotions that tell you something about your state of mind, something maybe even you weren’t fully aware of. Strangers who might just widen your vision, making you wonder where you will be when your four years are up.
Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor