Late on Wednesday afternoon, immediately following a class entitled “Loneliness, Alienation, and Disenchantment” (ironically), one student finished their canned beverage and threw it on the ground. Another student responded by violently kicking the can across the sidewalk and on to the grass patch between Woods Laboratory and the library. Without speaking to one another, the small group of us gathered and began to chase after the can, shoving each other out of the way in order to maintain possession, and then punting it as far as it would go. With each kick, it crumpled, rendering the task more and more difficult. Soon, various lone onlookers began to stare in bemused amazement — for this sort of thing no longer happens — and trot over curiously to try their hand at our vigorous and purposeless game. The harsh sound of shoes hitting metal was punctuated only by brief, shrill laughs; what we were doing was so absurd! So childish! Laugh was all you could do, at a certain point. And yeah, I know this sounds stupid, and it’s odd that I’m describing it so vividly, but this can game mattered to me, because it brought forth very clearly what has been missing from my college life, and surely others’.
There is an absence of impromptu and absurd social gatherings (I’ll refer to as IASGs) in modern adult life, and, given that college is a perfect staging ground for such gatherings, we ought to sustain them while we still can. First, let me be more specific about what I mean by the two criteria. By “impromptu” I mean not only unplanned, but original, unrehearsed. If you always play 20 questions with your friends, no matter how random the timing of the suggestion of the game, it is still familiar territory with a predetermined structure. An impromptu social event arises truly off the cuff, the urge to partake hitting those involved simultaneously, no words need even be exchanged. By “absurd” I mean irregular, bizarre, and more than anything: pointless. Any social activity that has some productive value of any kind doesn’t make the cut. For example, hiking on a trail, solving a puzzle, or making cookies are all in service of some sort of end goal, with parameters around how you must achieve the goal. Whereas, digging holes in the earth, having a food fight, or throwing rocks into a trash can from varying distances are closer to what I’m aiming at. You know those shrill exclamations of joy that I was mentioning earlier? Those just don’t occur while participating in the first set of activities.
Another important contributor to the IASGs that I’ve observed is that they are composed of mainly people who do not know each other that well. When the group only consists of close friends, there is too much order and predictability to the ordeal. While my can kicking experience began with a few people I knew, it quickly expanded to a mishmash of disparate people who were all drawn in by the common denominator of the absurdity of the game itself. No one was uneasy with inserting themselves into the game, because it was utterly clear that if we were engaged in something as childlike and perfunctory as we were, exclusion or social malaise were the least of our priorities.
There is something paradoxical about me even diagnosing and encouraging this type of behavior, because its very essence is the lack of explanation and compartmentalization, however, I do think there is a certain ethos that must be nurtured in order for IASGs to happen. The ethos is that of finding humor in the mundane, not taking oneself too seriously, and an appreciation of disorder. The main reason why I think this ethos is severely lacking among college aged kids now, in comparison to the previous century, is that the ethos is born mostly out of boredom or a lack of novelty — both of which have been “remedied” by the accessibility of cellphones and their many social/consumer outlets. I feel that I am well positioned to make this correlation, given that I attended a high school for four years with a complete ban on technology. It was an outdoor boarding school that required all personal technology be left at home. Not being around phones and being in the middle of the woods for months at a time, there was quite a lot of boredom and quite a lot of desire for novelty. In turn, the ethos I described was rampant. Nearly every bit of free time was spent in IASGs, which often turned mischievous in addition to absurd, (i.e. a group of us working together to hoist the Statistics teacher’s bike to the top of the flagpole). I don’t long for those days of complete isolation from society and social media, for they kept me in a sphere of naivete and immaturity, but I do long for the byproduct of IASGs.
There is a reality, I think, in which college-aged maturity, worldly awareness, and use of technology can coexist with spontaneous childish undertakings. The fact that our can game was played immediately after our Loneliness and Disenchantment class was not a coincidence; I’m sure it was the very fact that our depravity was brought to our attention that we subconsciously thought “What’s stopping us from doing something totally random and pure right now?” Merely the momentary lifting of the veil over our eyes can cause meaning and idealism to flood into a previously unexamined reality — which is part of why I’m writing this. Hopefully the very reminder of what could happen is enough to plant a seed in your subconscious mind.