Printers and Penguins

I would like to start by talking about printers. The other day I stood in the library printing paper copies of all the readings for each of my four classes plus one back-up class. As I watched the printer spit paper out at me for a solid two minutes I was reminded when I was as a child and after learning about the basics of carbon pollution earnestly believed that for each minute I held a refrigerator door open, a penguin would die and it would be my fault. Since coming to Harvard, I have learned that the effect is not quite as causative as I used to believe, I still felt guilty that my academic success would come at the expensive of robbing tree homes from woodland critters. Of course I could simply forgot the printing altogether. The modern academic institution makes it incredibly easy for students to access all necessary documents online. Market demand and technological innovation has rapidly democratized the availability of personal computers. The prevalence of personal computers has further pushed demand for internet infrastructure throughout the University. That I can use my MacBook whilst sitting in the middle of the yard is a rather unique feature of the focus and commitment to wireless accessibility. Despite the given that personal computers and network access are already changing the physical infrastructure of the university landscape, I believe that the cultural paradigmatic shift to a technology centered Academy has been too slow and implicit to allow adequate assessment and evaluation. I find this particularly interesting in the context of information access, academic and scholarly articles. Specifically, my position at a University institution gives me access to JSTOR and other pay-walled routes of information that would have been really nice to have prior to coming here. Either way, I think that the at some critical Point Harvard, and the Academy broadly will have to consider what what information will remain exclusive to the realm of the university educated. The books behind the velvet will always remain as such so long as the upper echelons of academics choose to keep it that way. With internet lectures, online libraries, and the vast global network of intellectual interconnected activity, I am left wondering what is it exactly about attending University in a physical sense will have on my development as a human.

But back to printers. I am afraid of killing penguins and I wish I wasn’t killing so many penguins but I also hate reading on computer. Aesthetically, it is impossible for back-lit blue screens to replace the tactile satisfaction of feeling smooth ink glide on soft paper. Libraries are happy, sacred places and the smell of old books will forever instill a hypnotizing charm in the hearts of bookworms. Harvard has some of the most beautiful, rare, precious books in the world. Maybe my privilege in attending this school is being able to feel the history of great intellectual giants in the weight of books in my hand and afterwards turning to my MacBook to tell the world what I have learned.

Comments (4) to “Printers and Penguins”

  1. This is a great first post. Your fear of killing penguins–what a traumatic way to grow up.

    But you bring up a question that universities in general (and Harvard in particular) have been struggling with since the advent of the Massive Open On-line Courses like edX and Coursera. What really is the value of the resident academic institution? I’m pretty convinced that, while instructors like Mike and I can help, the real value is placing students like you in close proximity to others with something to talk about and enough supervision to keep the Lord of the Flies thing from happening. In other words, most of your education at Harvard comes from your peers, not your instructors or the content to which we have access.

    And I agree with you about the feel of books. There is nothing like the printed page..

    Jim

  2. LOL I literally had the exact same fear as you when I was younger except I thought I was killing polar bears every time I opened the fridge. In my opinion, the shift to a technological and connected online academic environment is very helpful for accessing and spreading information, but there are short-comings; the lack of satisfaction from failing to feel a tangible document is one that you mentioned. Furthermore, a lot of my teachers have shown me studies proving that note-taking with pen and paper rather than with a laptop is more effective for learning. RIP polar bears and penguins 🙁

  3. I’ve never heard the thing about how opening your fridge kills a penguin, but I grew up thinking that every plastic soda can ring thingy would kill a sea turtle. I feel you.

    On a serious note, I wonder how the effects of electronic resources has on our daily decision making and thought processes. For example, you spend more money when you use debit cards as opposed to paper cash. They are inherently the same things, just in different forms. Does reading electronic copies abstract the same ideas portrayed on paper? I, for one, prefer paper copies as well, but the convenience factor compensates for the tangibility.

  4. Thanks

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