About Me

My name is Spencer. I'm 23 years old, and I'm a junior at Princeton. So far college has taken me five years. I've taken time off to work, transferred to USC and come back, and learned a lot along the way.

I like to think about life and what I'm going to do with mine.

I've met a lot of people my age with the same sorts of thoughts so feel free to read, take surveys, and comment.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Irony of James Franco's "Undergrads"

In my last post, James Franco's "Undergrads", I said that the Franco brothers have done an important thing in exposing the extreme side of college partying to the public. I also wrote that we should all take the story with a grain of salt seeing as they depict a minority of the student population. However, I find it all the more ironic, that every single news article does not focus on the actual scenes in the web series. Rather, they simply talk about the reputation of the school depicted. None of the publications has admitted that USC was not the main  focus of the web series. It's not called "USC's Undergrads," and it's most certainly not trying to criticize and/or ruin the reputation of the University of Southern California. It's simply attempting to expose extreme college social life in general.

Nevertheless, I do understand why USC is angry. They have spent a lot of time, effort, and money improving their reputation, and this web series certainly will not help that. No article has outright said that this was not an attack directed towards USC, rather an exposition of extreme college social life. In all reality, the media has simply exacerbated the effect on USC's reputation.

Some examples:
Los Angeles Times ExtraLos Angeles Times BlogHuffington PostUK Daily Mail

James Franco's "Undergrads"


As some of you may have seen or recently heard about, actor James Franco has produced a web series depicting the party-side of really any university. He follows a group of cavalier and superficial students throughout a semester as they chase girls, binge drink, hook up, party hard, and, well, you get the point. However, for this "part documentary-part reality" series, he focuses on a group of students from the University of Southern California. Not surprisingly, the end product sparked quite bit of outrage from the school and its students. Nevertheless, let us not forget that this is purely the view of college life shown from a very specific social group. Although offensive to the university as a whole (and surely not a depiction of the majority of students at any university), we must admit and realize that some student do partake in such a lifestyle.

In my opinion, I think that James Franco's intention was only to shine a light on what really occurs at the most extreme end of college parties and Greek life. I don't in any way think that he was trying to criticize and/or deride the reputation of the University of Southern California. In fact, his younger brother, Dave, even attended USC and integrally worked on this project as well. He has been quoted saying:
"This past semester, I was working more behind the camera, and I directed, produced, and wrote this Web series about college life. The basic idea stems from a conversation I had with my friend about how there are really only a handful of projects at most, whether it be film or TV, that really capture what college is like. For the most part, it's all sensationalized and over-the-top. We decided we wanted to give it a very HBO-type look at what really happens in college. We figured, 'It's crazy enough as it is; let's just show what's really going on.' So we followed a handful of kids at USC throughout the semester, and the whole tone is a little strange, because it's part documentary, part reality, part scripted. It's kind of a weird mesh of everything, but it came out really cool. I hope people respond well to it. I'm happy, because we were able to capture what we set out for. ...I went to USC, and watching this footage, I can attest that this is really what it's like. This is what happens on a typical night."

First and foremost, I would like to question Franco's conclusion that college in the movies and on television is not depicted in a realistic manner. While it may be "sensationalized" and "over the top," I think it's a fair caricature of college social life. Even in dramatic, "soap-opera-esque" programs, it's not meant to be taken seriously. It's simply "based" on reality. I don't think any show's creators and producers really expect people to actually believe  what they've depicted. After all, it's not a documentary.

Furthermore, even though I do think the Franco brothers have done something important in exposing the extreme side of university social life, we have to remember that they've displayed only that... the extreme and inherently over the top side of college Greek and party life. Despite the fact that that lifestyle does exist for a certain (fairly large, in my opinion) minority, it does not fairly portray your average student at the University of Southern California (or any university for that matter). In fact, even if the focus was not USC, I do not think that the Franco brothers thought about the ramifications of this web series and whether or not it would be fair to a school that has spent a lot of time, effort, and money cleaning up its reputation (quite successfully, I might add) in the past years. In other words, it's good to expose the raw and raunchy side of college partying, but take it with a grain of salt because most students aren't like that.

The trailer was posted on WhoSay, but they have just recently been taken down based on the public reaction.

Some articles:
Los Angeles Times ExtraLos Angeles Times BlogHuffington PostUK Daily Mail

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Listen and learn: What we learn in college

On the same night that I met "Kevin," I also met a university professor. Let's call her "Jane." As soon as I met her, I knew that Jane was extremely smart. She had a stereotypical quirky teacher's sense of humour and always had something interesting to say. Nevertheless, she and I did not get along, and for most of the dinner, we differed in opinion on almost every single subject that came up. Despite that, it was very grounding and stimulating to hear the opposite side to every one of my arguments.

Later on, we started talking about college, stress, and what the pros and cons of university are. This, for me, was a chance I'd never had before... to talk to a college professor at a top-tier school about the current university school system.

Rather than hashing out everything that we said, let me concentrate on the most important lesson I learned from talking to her. Jane told me that "we go to college to learn to learn."

I thought about that statement for a second. I had never articulated or thought of college in that way, but now that I had heard it, it's very true. At university, we are given information, but we are the ones who figure out what to do with it. We decide what to write about, what to study, and what pieces of information are important. We learn how to take that information and turn it into something useful, such as a paper, a conclusion, a proof, or even a program or a project.

Despite the fact that Jane's statement is true in principle, that still does not mean that it actually happens as such in reality. It may or may not. I'm not sure, but I think it's different for every student.

In the past year, I have come to believe that college classroom environments don't necessary help us "learn to learn." Between competition, the importance and focus on grades, and the amount of work that we students get, it's hard to really recognize that we are supposed to "learn to learn." Yes, it is true that competition in the classroom varies depending on the field and the institution, but nobody can deny its existence. Similarly, it's fact that grades and class standing still have a major impact on the interviews, jobs, and opportunities presented to us when we graduate no matter what counselors tell us.

Both competition and the societal importance of grades force us students to study for a good grade as opposed to studying to learn. In my opinion, it inadvertently and subliminally tells us students to seek out what we do well at rather than to explore new areas and take new risks, which makes it quite difficult to figure out what we actually like and are interested in studying. To us, there's no point in risking a grade if it will affect us in a seemingly grand way, right?

Additionally, as a freshman, I realized that it's simply not possible to do all your assignments, all your reading, and meet all your deadlines unless you work 24/7. I understand schools do that in an attempt to teach us time management and the relative importance of tasks; however, because of the perceived need to do extremely well in the classroom, that strategy simply makes all students significantly more stressed out and can, I think, cause mental pain and anxiety.

Nevertheless, I think we could all benefit by remembering that university is a place where we "learn to learn." Take a few risks, and try some new classes and subjects.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You can't sensor the internet! Stop SOPA & PIPA!

As many of you probably know, there's an internet blackout today for many of the world's most visited sites, including Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, and many others (even some pornographic websites). The blackout raises mass public awareness towards the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act and calls for all of us internet users to contact our local representatives in an attempt to kill those proposals!

SOPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to, essentially, censor the internet and remove everything deemed as "copyrighted intellectual property." That includes essential parts of Wikipedia (photos and exerts of literary pieces), much of YouTube (like trailers and movie clips etc), search engines (which won't be able to link to any infringing sites), and much, much more! It would make "unauthorized" showing and streaming of "owned" content a crime with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements. The bill also would grant immunity to any internet companies and/or services that choose to take action against such infringing websites (such as removing the copyrighted material).

PIPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. government and copyright owners tools to stop websites that have copyrighted materials on their websites, especially those outside the U.S.! Again, censoring the internet!

These acts will not only affect the United States, but also the entire world! The internet does not belong to anybody, and seeing as many of these popular websites are based out of the U.S., our government would be banning material to everybody, not just Americans! Let alone, it's against the First Amendment, or our right to free speech. Not to mention the cost! It will cost our government millions and millions of dollars to implement and get this bill going if it is made into law. They will train specialists and form committees to simply censor the internet rather than using that money for better things such as education, helping the world economy in a time of crisis, and more. Are we really willing to sacrifice our WELL-BEING to protect large companies that don't need the money? These bills will stifle and halt progress if they are allowed to pass. Let's get out there and try to stop them!

For an easy way to find your local representatives, click on the Wikipedia link above, type in your zip code, and all the information will come up. Even if you're from another country you may write and/or call United States representatives or senators to give your opinion as well!

Some articles (among thousands):
Reuters, Huffington Post, ABC News, Forbes, and CNet

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Listen and learn: Pandora's box

In my last post, The metaphorical hump, Kevin and I "concluded... that there are a number of people who choose to ignore deep thoughts, fearing what ultimate truths they may find buried within their minds." I then said that many people will push these thoughts away while some will continue to think ever more deeply about their lives and whether or not they are truly happy. I call the latter: opening Pandora's box.

If someone quickly pushes those unhappy or "dangerous" thoughts away, on purpose or subconsciously, they avoid any immediate and serious contemplation of their lives or current situations. Now, why do I stress immediate? I think that once someone has thought, even for a split second, of an idea on his or her own, the idea will continue to grow just like in the movie Inception. That person may suppress the thought, but he or she will always be aware of it. It's simply a matter of time before that person starts to really contemplate his or her life. Thus, the seeds for one's so-called "mid-life crisis (or crises)" have been sewn. For the visual learners, here's the graph from The metaphorical hump:

As you can see, each person that begins to deviate even the slightest bit upwards will eventually reach that metaphorical hump, but Person C (the epitome of Ignorance is bliss) never has those first seedling thoughts. C never doubts his or her happiness in the slightest, and C will continue on in life the same as always, for better or worse.

Others, however, will not be able to stop focusing on those doubts. They have opened Pandora's box, and it cannot be closed until they face those scary and, most likely, life-altering thoughts.

To me, it seems only natural to attempt to break away from thoughts that make you unhappy; however, I think the best and most beneficial (in the long run) choice of action would be to embrace the thoughts and challenge them head on. See if there's any reason or truth to them instead of simply dismissing them. Are they simply doubts? Or are you actually unhappy? There is no right or wrong answer. It simply comes down to what you think. If you truly believe yourself to be happy, then nobody can rightly challenge your beliefs.

Some of you may now think, based on what I just said about beliefs, why bother to give any credence to those thoughts in the first place? That's a very good observation, but keep in mind that unless you've faced those doubts and/or truths, you'll never know if you've taken the road that made you happiest. You'll never know if things could have been better. Don't be afraid to let those doubts in; the worst they can do is show you something you already know deep down.

In the end, whatever gives you peace of mind will make you happier than before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Listen and learn: The metaphorical hump

In my last post, Ignorance is bliss, I wrote: "I'd say that most people...[a majority of the time] are happy go lucky, but on down days, they sulk and get depressed about their lives, and in many cases, once a person takes that first step into deeper thought, along comes a so-called 'mid-life crisis,' where that individual wonders who they are. Ultimately, my realization gave a lot of credence to the saying: 'Ignorance is bliss.' Many people choose to ignore or cannot think so deeply, and by doing so, they 'fool' themselves into bliss."

In my conversation with 'Kevin', I delved deeper into this thought with him. We concluded, as I wrote earlier, that there are a number of people who choose to ignore deep thoughts, fearing what ultimate truths they may find buried within their minds. Most of the time, people in this "group" live life in a happy go lucky manner; however, they do have down and depressed days when life is not so good, bad things are happening, or, perhaps, they're just contemplating their lives and not liking what they see. From here, there are some who forget about the bad day and move on, and there are others who continue along that train of thought. Those who continue onward may reach a stage in life, which many refer to as a "mid-life crisis" (in my opinion, these crises happen multiple times at any point in one's life), where they will contemplate and criticize many aspects of their lives in an attempt to find self-assurance, confidence in their "path", and, finally, inner peace as they come to terms with their lives.

In reference to the title of this post: one's final inner peace comes once a person gets past what I call "the metaphorical hump." Imagine a mountain representing this "metaphorical hump". Each step upwards towards the peak takes effort, and as you get higher and higher, the trek becomes more and more difficult. However, when you reach the top, you feel accomplished, and the trek down the other side is a breeze.

Now, let's apply the same principle to deep thinking and finding inner peace. As you open your mind up to deeper thoughts about yourself and your life, you may find some truths, such as realizing that you don't like the way your life is going, that will hurt you at first and make your journey up "the hump" extremely stressful and painful. Just like climbing a mountain, each step you take delving deeper into your thoughts, the more difficult it will become. However, after a lot of hard work, you will begin to discover ways to make yourself happier. These ways can be anything from finding a good and helpful solution to your so-called "issues," learning to accept something that's happened, finding a purpose for yourself such as family, a new job you love, or a hobby, opening up to your friends and family, reconnecting with someone, etc, etc. There is no right answer nor is there a general solution for everybody. By thinking deeper about your life, what makes you happy, and what gives you purpose, you (and the people close to you) can find suitable ways to improve the way that you feel and look at your life. Through this process, which I have experienced first hand, I think that you will become more mature, more worldly and accepting, and an overall happier person.

For all you visual learners, here's a little illustration/graph I made for this point:
Note: Difficultly of Acceptance, Levels of Contemplation, and Stress are all positively correlated. I.e. as one increases, they all increase and vice versa.

This graph conveys that each process of getting over "the hump" truly is different for each individual. All the individuals start out young without any deep contemplation whatsoever, but they later deviate by quite a large amount.
Person A: A begins to contemplate his or her life very early on and is most likely very mature for his or her age. A works through this highly volatile mental stage in life and settles at a level of contemplation that he or she feels comfortable at for the time being. Then A finds him or herself at another crossroads where he or she again finds room for improvement. A further works on finding mental peace and stability and finally settles at a much lower level of stress.
Person B: B falls under the category of "ignorance is bliss." B either is incapable of such mature and deep thinking, or he or she chooses to ignore any such thoughts.
Person C: At first, C is reluctant to open up to his or her deep thoughts and contemplations. He or she continually represses those thoughts until much later in life. Then C works past his or her metaphorical hump and settles at a comfortable stress level.