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The Dartmouth
May 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Captain's Log: Bubbleology

Here are some lies about the Dartmouth Bubble: it's a microcosm of the real world; it's the natural result of being out in the middle of nowhere; it is one of many bubbles in God's champagne; it's an optical illusion caused by refraction of a thinning, viscous and soapy membrane.

Rather, I think, the Dartmouth Bubble -- insofar as it's real at all, remains at its root a schema useful for dealing with the exigencies of our own D-plan-amplified self-absorption.

And yet, thanks to our collegiate and careless use of language, the idea of "the Dartmouth Bubble" gets tossed around like it has all those mythic meanings and more. I have heard this expression used to mean undercooked pork, as in "Sorry, I must have eaten the Dartmouth Bubble and I need to excuse myself to the bathroom." I have also heard people use the term to mean "a receptive emu," as in "I blacked out and I think I hooked up with the Dartmouth Bubble."

So, in the spirit of careful, unnecessary, and admittedly somewhat unexciting analysis of campus language, I'm going to try to dispose with a couple of myths about the Dartmouth bubble and offer you a new, probably more useful interpretation. Keep reading -- there will be some jokes, too.

First, we need to address the idea that the Dartmouth Community is (in any pertinent manner) a miniature of the real world. I think this doesn't need that much debunking -- we have more chimp labs than homeless people on campus.

Of course, there are of course some features of the actual world here at Dartmouth -- self-segregation, Sudoku, and superfluous to-go packaging of foods, just to name a few. But the idea that we go to school at some sort of small but realistic city-state, is about as real as the Real World (food for thought: could Real World be a microcosm of Dartmouth? I know I gripe at my housemates about cleaning up).

Similarly, to say that Dartmouth has a bubble because of our isolation from the world at large is to utter an anachronism. Certainly, a hunter of solitude may find here easy game, but this campus can no longer pretend in good faith that news of the outside world is out of our reach. We don't depend on the post to sporadically deliver us news on Fridays of the great world beyond. After all, we can pick up The New York Times every morning (for free, even) or better yet, subscribe to it online. We have easy access to the Great God Google 400 times a day. If this campus is still isolated in some sort of bubble, it's because we choose to maintain it. Perhaps, by and large, we don't even choose to maintain it -- we just hear that it is maintained, inexorable, laced with glycerin so that it does not pop, and we believe this. A lot of us similarly hear and believe that there's nothing to do on campus besides pong, or at least nothing with pong's visceral thrills.

So you might think, I will suggest that in fact, the Dartmouth bubble lies liminally between the outside world and a pretend world of monkey-science and diversity. But that's not quite right either -- the elusive Dartmouth bubble is not a state of the College -- it's a heuristic state of mind. Say what? Well, between 200 blitzes a day, several hours of time on Facebook, classes, clubs, sports, eating, drinking and making merry, the amount of information even an average student receives daily is overwhelming.

We use the Dartmouth Bubble like a lens to sort all that information out. And, in the way a soap bubble appears clear at first but then sorts the light passing through it into fluid but distinct patches of color, so can our bubble turn a spectrum of complicated inputs into a ROYGBIV of intelligibility.

As a result, we can roughly sort the people we see into Collis Girls, Indie Kids, Sweet Dudes, Neo-Hippies, HOP-rats, Math-o-scientists, and Escaped Chimps from the Chimp Lab. Even if they are ascriptive and unfair, I don't think most people dream up these categories out of malevolence.

Again, we just don't have time to deal with all the people we see or meet individually; we need to filter through them in a hurry. I'd like to think this is a result of a jam-packed schedule, but I'm not sure. We manage our busy lives and brains in part with a pretty deep draught of self-absorption (and escapist hook-ups with tractable emus) that might not find root in D-plan stress.

The bubble works even better when it comes to events -- either they are going to affect what I do today or they can be ignored. Hence I don't read the NYTimes online and I don't even Google things like "cruciferous vegetables" when they start appearing in the salad bar. Those things are outside of the bubble of immediately relevant things I have time to pay attention to.

It's not like this is all bad, however. I need a rough and ready filter to strain and order the daily information explosion, so I can get back to avoiding my class work and keep working on the things that matter to me: silly little humor publications that most people probably don't even read, and a silly improv comedy troupe that most people still think is the same as the Dog Day Players. So I owe a lot to that bubble -- I couldn't be the self-styled B+ grade humorist, sometimes MC, and pretend cultural critic that I am without it.

Now, how do I explain what a homeless person is to all these escaped chimps?