The Busyness Epidemic

Originally published in the Stanford Daily as part of a column series known as Adventures in Academia that explored issues related to the Stanford University community.

We Stanford students are so overcome with the Busyness, I wonder how we get anything done at all.

It is an epidemic, far more insidious than the Piglet flu. Once one person is infected, the entire social network around that person seems to come down with the same strain. Looking at population infection rates, the Busyness takes a few weeks to reach critical mass, generally about four to five weeks into a quarter. Once it strikes, social lives are crushed, tensions rise, and Facebook encounters increased web traffic (this one did not make any sense, but the Busyness strikes in odd ways).

The sad part is I am apparently infected with it. So are you. The Busyness seems to have grown particularly virulent this year. The economic shocks of the past year have lowered immunity levels, and there is no vaccine in the works. Even Vaden may not be able to stop this latest affliction.

I am providing this information as a public service announcement. They (third-person conspiratorially plural) do not want you to know about it. Imagine the fear and panic that would sweep through the student body if students knew that a terrible scourge was being transmitting. I thought long and hard about the consequences of revealing this information, but the Busyness itself pretty much prevents any sort of panic from transpiring. People are just too busy to respond to the Busyness.

The most important element in reducing infection rates of the Busyness is identifying possible carriers. My admittedly anecdotal research indicates that one of the most correlated factors is location. Where does a person spend the bulk of their time? The Busyness is particularly virulent in places near engineering and science buildings. In fact, it seems that people who frequent these places are susceptible to a particularly dangerous side effect of the disease known as PSS – Problem Set Shock. Our only defense against PSS appears to be coffee, but thanks to an oversight by the Obama administration, the only dispensary near Green remains shut down.

Just because a potential carrier is not visiting these dens of horror does not mean that they cannot contract the Busyness. My evidence shows that students can be given a numerical score between 12 and 20 on how likely they are to receive the disease. That score roughly correlates with the number of units a person is taking. Perhaps being in more classes raises the number of potential interactions among carriers. It is difficult to speculate. It appears the number of extracurriculars is also similarly correlated.

Finally, there are physical manifestations of the pathogen. The Busyness seems to cause a decline in the mental faculties, causing an inability to weigh two options intelligently. This leads to Busy people who choose to continue working on an essay instead of taking a shower. It leads them to read another journal article instead of washing their clothes. The smell from people with the Busyness is often the first indication that the person has become infected.

Time is truly running out if we are to save the student body. There are no panaceas, only natural remedies that appear to improve the condition (warning: none of these are FDA approved). My first recommendation is to take fewer units. The virus’ correlation with heavy courseloads indicates one possible infection vector. Also helpful if those units are not near engineering and science buildings, but one can only do so much. Cutting extracurriculars also appears to aid in fighting the disease.

Another possibility is to take a relaxation moment during the day. It seems that looking at a plant for a couple of minutes or striking up a new conversation seems to keep the pathogen at bay. The lower heart rates associated with such an activity may make Stanford students nervous, but do not worry, the lower blood pressure leads to a smaller risk of contracting Busyness. Sleeping a minimum of seven hours, or sleeping at all, also increases the human body’s resilience.

Also, do not use the name of the disease in everyday communication. When discussing why you did not show up for the lecture/party/performance, do not blame the Busyness. It seems to feed on that. Instead, provide a legitimate excuse that ignores the underlying affliction.

The Busyness strikes at the very heart of our institution and is leaving few students unscathed. Its virulence unrivaled by past resurgences, it is important that every member of our community remain vigilant to the outbreak. Beware smelly roommates, workaholics and the west academic buildings. With more attention and alertness, we should be able to turn the tide against the greatest public health threat of our time.