I've Got 35,000 Decisions but Chem 6 Ain't One

by Nelly Mendoza-Mendoza | 1/9/19 2:00am

The butterfly effect is an idea originating from chaos theory. It states that even the flapping of a butterfly’s soft and small wings can lead to the winds shifting and preventing a terrible storm from happening in another continent. The effect does not simply describe weather patterns — it can reference any possible effects of small and seemingly non-trivial decisions. Does the idea of the butterfly effect apply to our daily lives and the 35,000 remotely conscious decisions we make per day?

If it does, then I’d like to believe the butterfly effect is always in my favor. When I first heard this huge number, it was hard to believe. However, if we think about the various types of decisions we make everyday, split into different tiers of importance and effort, then you might start to become less skeptical.

Perhaps this massive number explains our short attention spans, especially when we have to choose whether to pay attention to all the notifications that hit our screens from dozens of different sources every few minutes. The Wall Street Journal even published an article, “The High Financial Price of Our Short Attention Spans,” about how the quality of our decisions depend on the time of day we make them and how distracted we are. This dilemma is probably compounded when one is in college and there are seemingly unlimited things to choose from.

A typical day starts with many of us waking up in the morning and hitting the snooze button at least once, and maybe a few other times, until the point where we ask ourselves whether it is even worth going to class.

Sometimes, I go through the effort of setting a timer for two minutes instead of getting up.

Then it’s time to shower, brush your teeth, brush your hair, pick out your outfit, put on your outfit and put on your shoes. After writing this, I am just happy our brains are good at running things automatically.

It would be extremely overwhelming to actively have to think about every decision you have to make. There is a term for this, decision fatigue. The idea is that the more decisions you make in a short period of time, the less rational you become.

Then, after getting to class, you start thinking about the many other things you could be doing. Especially during a warm sunny day in the spring when you could be sitting on the Green, the warm weather headquarters for many Dartmouth students. Or perhaps you start to daydream and zone out for a few minutes. Or you spend five minutes looking at the online shopping decisions of the girl sitting in front of you.

Then in a snap of a second, your computer is on your desk. You open up your computer and surf through the web and look through some sports stats or scroll through hundreds of different dresses or jeans in the time span of one class.

Or maybe you start typing furiously on your computer which makes your professor think you are taking notes, but instead you are texting paragraphs to your friend on iMessage about what you are doing this weekend.

Your decision to multitask is great until you realize you missed an entire five minutes of your professor’s lecture. Surprise, your countless decisions led you here.

After getting out of class, you face new crossroads. What should you eat for lunch today? Is it worth getting a drink and a salad from King Arthur Flour Café, or should you go to Collis Café and then return to the library?

You have to decide whether it’s worth waiting in line for 20 minutes at KAF or walking a quarter mile to Collis. To make a decision, you think about many things: how cold does it look outside? How much time do you have between classes, and how many of your friends are in the KAF line?

If you end up going to Collis and get some eggs, you have to decide how many you want, how you want them cooked and what toppings to add.

And if you get a smoothie you have to decide the fruits you want, whether you want skim, whole or some other milk, protein, kale, honey or cinnamon. The options are endless.

But if you go to KAF, you have to choose from dozens of different combinations of drinks and pastries.

This is when knowing exactly what you want is helpful. There is no reason to deviate from your two eggs over easy with nothing on them.

Time to return to the library. Are you feeling First Floor Berry or Third Floor Berry? Which restroom do you prefer (or tolerate more)? These are important questions when you will be sitting in one spot for hours. You have to factor in what your priorities are for the day. Do you want to catch up with friends on FFB or do you want to get things done on a quieter level up?

The next decision will be choosing the work you want to get done or sitting on your computer or phone for an hour and looking through your email, your GroupMe messages or friends’ Snapchat stories.

Then, after a while it’s time for dinner. The options are endless. Actually, not in Hanover, but you can still choose from Collis, the Courtyard Café, Novack Café or the Class of 1953 Commons.

There you will be able to make even more decisions. Some of the most exciting ones are deciding which side you want to sit on at Foco or who you are having dinner with.

The period between dinner and bedtime is full of possibilities. What you decide to do most likely depends on whether it’s the first week of the term or midterm season. This is perhaps one of the most interesting periods in a day for students to make decisions.

After a long day, you have to decide what time to go to bed. It’s 2 a.m., but your notifications are still calling for you. But you have to wake up the next morning and do it all over again, all 35,000 decisions, too. There is a reason why we do not consciously make all of these decisions a day. It would be draining, and you would have zero energy for anything else.

In the midst of so much, it only makes sense that among the 35,000 decisions we make in a day, it is almost guaranteed that irrational and sometimes regrettable decisions will be made.

Like shopping on Amazon for one thing and spending an hour reading reviews, looking at the comments section on YouTube, placing clothing on your wishlist that you could never wear in the dead of winter, taking three really hard classes your freshman fall, taking Computer Science 1 for fun or taking Chemistry 6 for your science distributive. Or sending a flitz freshman year to someone you have never met.

This time you made all of the right decisions and have made it all the way to the end of this article. And whether the decision to snooze your alarm one more time tomorrow morning will change something major as the butterfly effect would suggest, it is something we cannot know. Don’t be overwhelmed.