So, I’m back from Spain by way of Indiana and the cold (at least in Indiana) harsh reality of my return is setting in: not much is different. Sure, the songs I hear on the radio or drifting out from open dorm doors aren’t acoustic covers of “Ayo Technology,” an erstwhile number-one-hit in Spain, but I can handle that. I may not be able to handle the reemergence of that Imogen Heap song that refuses to die, now as the hook of a mediocre R&B song–thank you Andy Samberg and Jason Derulo–or Britney’s newest effort to stay shocking with her, “look at me! I want to fuck two guys!” anthem that is “3”. Also Ke$ha. I can’t handle that.
Let me revise my previous assertion: not much is different, but what is different refuses to leave me alone. It’s the minute changes that fight what otherwise might be an all-too-easy fall back into familiarity. Stern Late Night has a new name that’s almost as hip as its new tables and dimly lit atmosphere, which is either there to encourage the ambience of slick night spot or to reduce the obviousness of how drunk/high its patrons are. I live on the other side of campus from my old “home(s)” of Wilbur and Stern and so everything I walk to, I must walk to backward. What is really different? There are 1600 more people on this campus since the last time I was here, none of whom I have ever had the chance to meet. 1600 others, some of whom I knew, are gone. Both those numbers will only grow in the years to come. And that matters. Because with those leaving goes their knowledge of this place–the good and the bad.
Institutional memory is short in a place with a rapid turnover. At businesses short on employee training, say Wal-Mart or Mcdonald’s, that doesn’t matter much. Little continuity means less chance that a sense of belonging will develop, which in turn makes any sort of organized effort to maintain traditions or fix apparent issues much less likely. That’s fine for a place concerned solely with continuing to exist, but Stanford ought to be more than that. We learn things here and in four years, we as students ought to feel like we belong here, like we are a part of something that is bigger than just us, bigger than just our classes. If there are things we want to stay the same, we should conserve them. If there are things that need changing, we should do that too.
If we don’t, someone else will. A place short on institutional memory is a place with an identity vulnerable to assault. Be it by misguided attempts at radical reform or close-minded attempts to push conformity, all it takes are small, gradual steps that add up slowly until the place we know now disappears. How much of what I thought was normal will be gone by the time I graduate? How long would it take to make this place feel unrecognizable enough that finding my old haunts will be like sifting through a reconstructed archeological dig site?
In the coming weeks, in this space, I’ll be looking for things about this place I love, things that I want to stay the same no matter how many years pass after I leave and for things I see now and wish were different. As the weather turns “bad” and pushes us toward introspection, I hope you’ll do the same. While you do, please find something better to listen to than innuendo so obvious it would make Madonna cry foul. And Ke$ha. Don’t listen to her. You’ll already have made Stanford and the world, a better place.