Three stories, one responsibility: Contribute to what you benefit from

Benefitting but not contributing
Isabella Schreiber/Staff

Each semester, when the time to pick classes for the upcoming semester rolls around and the list is released, I spend countless hours cross-referencing the classes I’m considering taking with their online reviews. Specifically, I head straight to ratemyprofessors.com to determine whether I will be able to spend 15 weeks listening to them impart their knowledge or whether, as one anonymous review stated, “People say: Oh yeah! He was good because he started as really really really bad and by the end he was really really bad.”

The website isn’t exactly a breeding ground for the most insightful commentary, but I nevertheless allow those words to carry weight in my decisions. If a professor’s rating is less than a 4.5, I squirm despite however excited I was initially about the curriculum. If they’re rated under a 4.0, I cast the class aside in favor of a safer choice.

This fall, however, when I couldn’t find a professor’s ratings, I decided to throw caution to the wind and abandon my approach in an uncharacteristic move, choosing to take a class solely based on the subject material. This decision has caused me reevaluate the advice to “venture out of your comfort zone and try new things!” You should definitely still hang on to some of the strings of success from your previous methods. If you leap, you’re going to fall, not fly. That’s just common sense (and gravity).

“Why have I never thought to praise them, and why do I only feel inclined to voice dissatisfaction?”

My immediate reaction upon discovering that this professor and I were definitely not on the same page was to think: “I’m going to write a scathing review on ratemyprofessors.com.” This is a strange reaction for someone who has never written a review in all the time I’ve used the site. Sure, I’ve taken two unfortunate classes here (the first being a quantitative reasoning credit I had no choice but to take, so I chalked that up to my strong dislike of numbers rather than the professor’s teaching abilities), but I’ve taken five times that amount with professors who have used those mere 15 weeks to not only change the way I view the world, but also influence the way I go about acquiring those perspectives.

Why have I never thought to praise them, and why do I only feel inclined to voice dissatisfaction?

***

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published a piece in their Modern Love section, titled “When Your Uber Driver Brings a Time Machine.” While I’m sure the story it tells skillfully weaves together a relationship and a transportation app, I have no idea, because when I clicked on it, I received a message that read: “You have reached your free article limit for the month.”

This didn’t come as a surprise, and I knew the drill from having seen this message countless times before. Because the article had appeared in my Facebook feed, I immediately tapped the top right corner and hit “save link.” This button has become my best friend. Along with tutorials for crafts I will never do and recipes I will never make, it contains every New York Times article that has ever intrigued me, headline alone. It allows me to go back and read articles when my limit is reset every month.

This act of saving these articles for later to avoid paying minimal fees has always left me feeling guilty. Especially because I write for — am, at this exact moment, writing for — a publication. I know how desperately we need funding to keep producing content. But for some reason, at $1-per-week student pricing, this $52-per-year expense has always discouraged me, despite my habit of spending well over that amount on clothes with one click.

Why won’t I pay for a news source that has time and time again shown me their dedication to sharing well-written reports and interesting ideas?

***

While home for Thanksgiving and trying to plan seeing friends from high school, I realized it was almost impossible to coordinate schedules because everyone was naturally (and rightly) prioritizing spending time with family. I decided that I would invite everyone I wanted to see over for dinner one night, because I was stressed about not having enough time to hang out with each person individually.

But the problem with transitioning from high school to college is that the people you want to stay in contact with aren’t necessarily the same set of people your friends want to catch up with. While there are no animosities, I knew that the people I wanted to see had grown apart from each other and wouldn’t have made the effort to see others in the group on their own. Despite knowing this, I decided to give it a try anyways and send a group text.

Within 10 minutes, I was panicking. No one had replied. My mom told me I was being irrational. She was right. But my fear wasn’t that no one would reply; it was a fear that I had made some sort of social faux pas by insinuating that everyone wanted to hang out together or that they were interpreting it as me suggesting that they weren’t valuable enough to get one-on-one time in my life, even though I just didn’t have that time.

Within an hour, however, I was really, really, really panicking — still no replies. I decided I was going to try a new tactic and text everyone individually with a simple “dinner tonight?” Within minutes, I’d received replies of “sounds great!” or “I’d love to, what time?” from every single one of them. What followed were six separate conversations to quell my social anxieties, where I had to verify that everyone did indeed receive my text in the group chat I created and that yes, they did want to see everyone I had included. Then I specified the time and asked about pizza preferences six different times. This entire experience left me with one question.

Why didn’t they just text back in the group chat in the first place?

***

Connecting through technology makes us feel disconnected from responsibility. We embody a different version of a cyberbully hiding behind a screen — rather than directly attacking the systems we use for personal gratification, we harm them through a refusal to reciprocate instead of just participate. And like any symbiotic relationship, they won’t survive if we don’t shoulder some of the growth.

I didn’t recognize the negative effects of disregarding the symbiotic relationship of interacting online until the tables turned and I felt them personally. When it came to something as simple as making plans, I didn’t need appreciation or money, but I did need cooperation. On a larger scale, if I’d theoretically had hundreds of friends from high school that I wanted to see, individually contacting each of them wouldn’t have been possible.

“I didn’t recognize the negative effects of disregarding the symbiotic relationship of interacting online until the tables turned and I felt them personally.”

The panic I felt when confronting a lack of response is reflective of the panic that news organizations (like us here at The Daily Californian) feel when faced with low funding. We can’t contact all of our readers with a personal message. Ratemyprofessors.com wouldn’t have ratings if no one wrote anything.

So, I’m signing up for a subscription to the New York Times, and writing glowing reviews for the professors I practically worship. This doesn’t mean I’m saying that everyone is under some kind of social contract to donate or contribute content. But think of it this way: If you’d be uncomfortable showing up empty-handed to a potluck, why shouldn’t those feelings still apply in situations removed from face-to-face interactions?

If everyone “forgot” to bring a dish, no one would eat.

Contact Alejandra Dechet at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aydecks.

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