Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

April 10, 2002:

By Abhi Raghunathan '02

A 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 in Frist.

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 abhishek@princeton.edu