by on 2011-08-26

Walk on the Grass

(originally published in the SMU Daily Campus)

As an engineer, my every action is plagued by thoughts of inefficiency. What some may think of as thirty seconds in waiting for their computer to start up, I see as two days of wasted life.

This is why I walk on the grass.

Let me explain: a corollary of the Pythagorean Theorem is that the sum of the two legs of a right triangle will always be greater than the hypotenuse. That is, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.

The paved walkways cutting across the lush Dallas Hall lawn, however, very seldom line up with the direct path to my destination.

Take the example of walking from Virginia Snider to the Fondren Science building (a path I estimate to travel about 2,500 times before graduation). Keeping on the paths, you’ll walk (according to Google Earth) 0.27 miles. Walking straight from Virginia Snider to Fondren, however, and you’ll save 0.07 miles.

Doesn’t sound like very much, right? But now multiply by the 2,500 times I’ll walk this path: that’s an extra 175 miles! Divide that by the average human walking speed of 2.5 mph and you get 70 hours! 70 hours of wasted life! Do you know what I could do in 70 hours?! I could drive to Las Angeles, California, go through an 8 hour certification course for skydiving, hop on a plane to Tokyo, Japan, skydive into a Buddhist temple, break the Guinness World Record for “Longest Wheelchair Push,” and I’d still have time left over to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2.

And that’s just walking between VS and Fondren 5 days a week! Let’s be optimistic and say that your daily walking inefficiency is twice that of the aforementioned path. That’s 140 wasted hours per student per 8 semesters. Now multiply by 11,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

175 YEARS of wasted human time. Taking into account that humans are only awake about 2/3rds of their lives, this translates to (at an average 1st world lifespan of 80 years) 3.3 complete human lives, or just under 1 human life per graduating class.

The concept isn’t new; it’s called a desire path. Defined by Wikipedia as:

a path…[that] represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination…Desire paths can usually be found as shortcuts where constructed pathways take a circuitous route.

Circuitous route indeed. 175 years more circuitous than following your own desire path.

I can already predict that the opponents to my grass-walking lifestyle will criticize damaging SMU’s pristine grass in Summer droughts. To them, I say: don’t think of it as killing grass, think of it as saving lives.