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Stanford flakes

The experience of being flaked on, or of flaking on someone else, has come to be a quintessential part of Stanford undergraduate life. You show up to a club meeting on time to find that half of the members have just texted you saying that they are between five and 15 minutes late.  A quarter of the members are not present and have just texted to let you know that they can’t make the meeting at all. Another quarter of people are absent without explanation.

Many of us are aware of this and accept it, with varying degrees of equanimity, as unavoidable. College students are disorganized and busy. There are few to no consequences for  being late or absent, particularly for extracurricular activities.

Yet this laxness seems to creep outward, expanding to include everything in our lives. In one of my classes this quarter, our professor was forced to move the start time back 10 minutes because more than half the class wasn’t present on time for every single class meeting for the first two weeks. At a small meeting with two faculty members, roughly a fourth of the 10 students invited were late.

Part of what makes this culture of lateness possible is that it is a culture — everyone’s doing it, to some extent. Even I, the person pedantic enough to write a column complaining about this, am late to at least one thing each week. Most quarters, at least one of my professors is habitually a few minutes late to class. All of us, it seems, realize that everyone else will be late and adjust our own arrival times accordingly, creating a positive feedback loop. It’s mutually assured lateness.

The problem is that there are actually consequences to all these delays. Meetings, classes and activities all end on time, even if no one shows up until five minutes past the scheduled start time (and half of the attendees leave early after arriving late because no one at Stanford is capable of saying “no” or realistically evaluating their capacity to be in two places at once). Ultimately, we all simply have less time together to get through an agenda, slideshow or plan (and few people adjust their plans to account for this diminished time).

It’s also perhaps worth noting that arriving late to everything and then leaving midway through is at least somewhat disrespectful. I don’t tend to put too much weight on this argument, because if you’re not careful this line of thought makes you sound like a particularly strict school teacher from the 1950s. We should accept that everyone has a complicated schedule, and that it’s not a personal insult to the professor, speaker or meeting organizer if someone arrives late and leaves early.  But it’s also good for attendees to remember that they are presumably attending the event because it was worth to them, and being on time and present for the entire event is a good way to show that.

I suppose what I’m really advocating for is a more thoughtful version of lateness. There may not be formal consequences to tardiness, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences at all. When you’re making plans which will force you to be late, or sitting in bed for a moment longer because you know that your professor won’t actually deduct points for entering class at 9:35 a.m., it might be worth it to consider the trade off you’re making. We chose to go to classes and meetings because they are interesting, important or fun. Being late means that losing part of the interesting, important, fun event. Is telling people that you do six extracurriculars worth more than doing four extracurriculars and actually being able to consistently show up for them? Is being late to lecture worth five unsatisfying minutes of trying to fall back asleep while worrying about how much time you have left? There isn’t a universal answer here, but let’s all stop telling ourselves that tardiness doesn’t matter.

Contact Sarah Myers at smyers3 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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