Caffeine Culture

Published in The Observer

If you’re anything like my friends and me, Starbucks downs your flex points just about as fast as you down its tall vanilla lattes.

I don’t even drink coffee just to stay awake. There are so many other great reasons to grab a cup: to fill an awkward break between classes, to catch up with friends, to procrastinate studying and to keep warm when the temperature goes subzero.

We live in a caffeine culture, and the ridiculously long coffee lines between classes prove that. You can even tell a lot about a person based on their caffeine preference.

We have the Waddicks types, who linger at the coveted red booths, reading Chaucer or discussing philosophy, slowly sipping large pumpkin spice coffees.

You know someone’s got a long day when their tumbler is filled to the brim with Grab and Go coffee and secured in the net pocket of a protruding backpack.

And then there are those who are perpetually holding Starbucks — never straight coffee but always with an excess of adjectives like nonfat, extra whip, unsweetened, light ice and no foam.

I may be stereotyping, but at Notre Dame getting coffee is a more social thing for girls than for guys. You are much more likely to see four PW girls in LaFun gossiping over coffee, than to see four Siegfried guys crowded around a Burger King table, chatting and sipping their nonfat lattes.

On the other hand, unlike guys, girls don’t typically purchase energy drinks to have fun with their friends. Let’s take the case of Five-Hour Energy shots. Girls never brag about taking them. In fact, most girls will down them in the privacy of a Subway booth or in their own rooms. But when guys pop open that small bottle, they have to broadcast it to whoever they pass by. It’s always like, “Dude, I’m so ridiculously awake now, I just took a Five-Hour Energy. Love that stuff.”

Addiction? Possibly. Problem? Not really.

But the Five-Hour Energy shot poured into the coffee? Yes, I’ve seen it done. Now that’s a problem.

At Notre Dame, we like to think that while we “play hard” on the weekends, during the weekdays we are studious, diligent and in control. However, our coffee drinking habits are oddly reminiscent of our weekend drinking habits. Why else would we order a double shot of espresso on a Monday morning, or claim that “one more cup” of coffee won’t hurt us? Why else would we suffer through headaches at 11 a.m., just because we didn’t have that morning cup?

Whether you’re a social coffee drinker, a caffeine addict, or, gasp, you “don’t like coffee,” there’s no denying that we live in a caffeine culture.

Of course, there are those out there who claim to survive without any caffeine at all. On good, old-fashioned sleep, they say. I still think there has got to be some method to that madness, but for now, more power to them.

SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) plagues six of every 100 people in the United States, according to statistics by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The main age of onset of SAD is between 18 and 30 years old.  The disorder is related to seasonal variations of light (or lack thereof).

No wonder it  affects so many students at Notre Dame.

That’s a pretty dramatic  shift of scenery. Beautiful, as the white pathway and  snow-covered dome are. But best viewed through a photograph or the warmth of a LaFortune window.

Check out The Observer‘s archives on Seasonal Affective Disorder here.

ND students’ thoughts on Facebook Timeline

“Tell your life story with a new kind of profile.”

This is Facebook’s advertising slogan for the new Facebook Timeline, a different profile format that offers users the opportunity to sort and highlight life events chronologically.

Students at Notre Dame — many of whom have been Facebook users since the site’s inception in 2004 — have mixed feelings about the new profile.

Sophomore Marisa Iati recently switched over to Timeline. She said that while she likes the appearance of her profile, the new format also “feels invasive.”

“It bothers me that anyone can see things I posted in 2008 just by clicking one or two buttons,” Iati said. “I don’t like how easy it is to dig into someone’s past…It has actually made me consider deleting my Facebook page altogether.”

Sophomore Adam Lllorens agreed Facebook Timeline forces users to be more transparent about their pasts. Embarrassing or regrettable moments are no longer covered up by layers upon layers of wall posts — they are now accessible with the click of a button.

“I don’t like that it is in fact better organized,” Llorens said. “The organization is a blessing and a curse. Some Facebook friends of mine whom I may have not talked to in months can look at everything I have ever done.”

But Iati said Timeline has definite upsides, especially in its visual appearance.

“I really liked the large cover photo at the top, and I thought Timeline’s layout was more attractive than the old layout,” Iati said. “It’s more eye-catching and clean-looking.”

Senior Elissa Cmunt said she also likes the banner photograph at the top of the page.

“I think it’s neat and gives you yet another way to show a part of yourself.”

Senior Grace Concelman, who still has the old profile, said Timeline is much too public. She said she is toning down her Facebook usage.

“I got annoyed with all of the changes, especially the changes to privacy settings and email notifications that adjust with each new version but require me to manually change them back to the level of privacy and notification that I had before the new versions came out,” Concelman said. “I also decided that I just don’t need to spend my time looking at pictures and statuses that I’m perfectly happy not to see.”

Cmunt said she thinks Timeline is just one of Facebook’s many changes, and that most students have overreacted to it.

“I don’t have the Timeline yet and I don’t plan on getting it…It will be eclipsed by some other change in a few months,” Cmunt said. “I don’t think it is all that different than the current Facebook home page, which is basically organized by date anyway.”

While Timeline makes it easier for others to look into her past, Iati said, it has also caused her to be more aware of the digital footprint she leaves on Facebook.

“It has made me more conscious of what I post because I know that people will be able to easily see it years from now,” she said.

What I Don’t Know

Published in The Observer

Last week, a friend told me light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast.

“Um, that can’t be true,” I said as I frantically turned to Google to verify my preconceived understanding of the beverage. It’s a Wikipedia-confirmed fact, however, that caffeine content is actually burned off during the roasting process. In most cases, the darkest roasts are the least stimulating.

I tried to justify why I’d assumed the opposite, but came to no conclusions. Everything I thought I “knew” about coffee was shaken. I was a victim of the placebo effect.

This incident got me thinking about all the things I “know” and “don’t know.” About the many things I have always assumed to be “true,” without ever consciously arriving at their truth.

In a college environment like Notre Dame, we’re constantly revising, molding and adding to our perspectives on truth. The process is both exciting and uncomfortable. It reminds us of how little we know.

In an introductory history class my sophomore year, I assumed the entire semester a girl I had befriended was a freshman, simply because almost everyone was. On the second to last class day, she arrived wearing an engagement ring and brought up her plans to get married after graduation.

She was a senior? And getting married? I couldn’t believe it.

My views on her were turned entirely upside down. I realized she had knowledge I didn’t have — about relationships, Notre Dame and life in general. I didn’t know how to relate to her because I was no longer the older one.

I felt ridiculous for making that assumption, because while other characteristics might have led me to realize her age, the fact that she was in a freshman class overruled them all. First impressions do matter — I had closed my mind off to revisions after that first class day.

As a senior English major, I’ve realized the liberal arts education is as much about changing one’s way of thinking as it as about studying texts. The liberal arts education forces students to be cautious about making assumptions.

Every point must be supported, every thought defended. Reasoning and critical thinking are essential. These skills are applicable not only in the job world but in everyday life, and I’d argue that’s what makes a liberal arts education so strong.

Over my four years, I’ve gained a wide range of knowledge, some of which I’ve retained and some which is stored in some locked part of my memory.

But my English major education has also encouraged me to be comfortable with the unknown.

It’s a terrifying thought that in a few months, I’ll be leaving a place of comfort, a place that was home for four years. But it’s also it’s thrilling. There are so many things I don’t know.