By Abhi Raghunathan '02
Letter from Senior Spring Break:
Technology gets in the way of all the important things I have
to do these days. Unimportant e-mails keep popping up. I send equally
unremarkable e-mails out. I find myself drawn to lackluster stops
on the information superhighway, watching movie trailers for movies
I will never see in the theater. I download mp3s of songs I have
no real interest in. I've even made regular stops to the "official"
and "unofficial" fan sites of celebrities that I don't really care
about. Add in "instant messaging" - the computer program that allows
you to chat with people online - and reading a single poem becomes
a laudable goal.
I've done these things (and not done more important things, like
my senior thesis and a good part of the reading for my classes)
because the high-speed Internet connections to dorm rooms has made
it easier for me to waste large amount of time in my room. All of
us students have very easy access to a very fast Internet connection.
Even the Luddites without computers in their rooms can walk over
to a computer cluster or one of the dozens of computer terminals
Of course, all of this e-mailing and websurfing has made the academic
life on campus much easier in a number of ways. Finding research
in scholarly journals and locating books in Firestone involves a
few keystrokes and maybe a click or two. (The card catalogues that
are still in the library seem to me like the medieval torture instruments
on display at a museum.) But the internet has also made it much
more difficult to read what we find. A world of distractions now
rests on just about every desk on this campus.
Right now, those distractions are keeping me from doing any real
work on my senior thesis. It is now March 18, and my thesis is largely
undone. I tell you this because it seems obligatory for PAW columnists
to devote at least one of their columns to the senior thesis, regardless
of the idiocy of their topic or the banality of their observations.
I blame the distractions of the contemporary world for my lack of
progress. Doing so is much easier than blaming my lack of self-discipline.
One of my recent plans is to take my research somewhere where I
will not be able to have any meaningful contact with the outside
world. No internet, e-mail or voice-mail. Well, it's more of a delusion
than a plan.
I should point out that the technological feature on my new phone
that excites me the most is a switch that turns off the ringer.
You might point out, quite accurately, that such a gizmo is largely
meaningless since I could always pull out the phone cord. But please
remember that I am part of a generation suckled on the ideal of
consumer satisfaction. I was taught at a very young age that a device
could be made to minimize any want I might have, even the want to
turn such a device off.
I am making these observations in the middle of March, at the
beginning of Spring Break, just after a snowstorm blew through the
campus. As the New York Times recently pointed out, conjunctivitis
is also widespread at Princeton - hundreds of cases are rumored.
Many people have red eyes now, and no one can tell for sure whether
the redness is the result of not sleeping or the result of disease.
And so just about everyone I see these days carries the traces of
misery on their face. Even the physically fit are sagging. The athletes
on campus seem worn out and broken by their practices and the seniors
seem worn out and broken by their theses. No one is sure who has
it worse - the procrastinators, the tired competitors or the diseased.
You can reach Abhi at firstname.lastname@example.org