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Chizen '14: Rebooting college life

In the middle of frantically typing notes for HIST 1630: "Modern Latin America I," my computer freezes. With a final shudder, it turns black and powers down. Everything is obliterated: an eight page paper due that evening, a year's worth of schoolwork, 6,000 songs, 3,000 pictures and dozens of programs. Typical daily college life is centered upon computers, and, without one, life has been dramatically transformed. But a small dose of bad luck can double as a wake-up call for us all. Not only is this a reminder for Brown students, as well as anyone who uses a computer for daily tasks, to back up their information on an external device, but it is also an ideal time to evaluate and question students' excessive reliance on computers.

Brown students, like most young adults, are obsessed with their computers. In a HISP 500: "Advanced Spanish I" class discussion, the professor asked what one item besides people or pets the class would rescue in a fire. The class unanimously agreed on the computer. Computers capsulate physical aspects of life into an abstract database: practical documents, sentimental pictures and convenient music. They transform physical items into an omnipresent cloud of information easily accessible on a single screen. The myriad real objects that depict what is most important to us has been replaced by a single unit. By saving their computers from the fire, students are salvaging not only a single piece of technology, but also all the practicalities and emotions that are conceptually stored inside.

Having lost my computer to the fire of hard-drive failure, I understand the dominant power computers have on our lives. Students ought to depend less on their computers to break from an imaginary cloud and return to what's most important: personal interaction. Computers have become so multi-dimensional that they are overbearing. Not only are they physically everywhere, but they are also viewed as essential for communication, music, pictures and schoolwork. Computers simply do too much. It's too much of a good thing, a sort of addiction that begins to disrupt the values that are integral to a society, such as physical relationships and diversification. While computers are very practical, losing one makes one less inclined to rely on them. Losing a single item should not be so costly. Instead, there should be many objects and ideas that represent a person's identity and what they deem important. 

Furthermore, we utilize our computers for hours each day. Clearly, this takes a toll on social interactions. We don't have conversations with our roommates or friends anymore without someone browsing the computer ­— or phone, for that matter — whether it be skimming Facebook or watching videos on YouTube. Distractions abound in class as soon as we open Internet browsers or start to chat with other friends who are online. We check our emails and Facebooks ungodly amounts every day, feeling the urge for updates on all events that are posted via the computer. 

The most popular hard drive back-up program, Time Machine, is able to replicate exact data — even the desktop background — onto a new computer screen. In one sense, it is extraordinarily useful to regain everything from a computer that has experienced hard drive failure. The pain of randomly losing work is something we can only learn from experience. But this experience also enables us to go through a different sort of time machine, one that delves much further into the past. During this time machine-like movement, we can realize the totality of our overuse of computers today. There are indeed many practical uses for the computer, and it is a modern necessity at Brown. While it's important to back up information regularly, it is likewise significant to evaluate why broken computers are such a detrimental loss in the first place. Computers should be used in moderation. They should not be a central component of the Brown experience and should never interrupt a daily routine. They ought to be utilized for work and communication but not distract from genuine productivity and interaction. Whether it's bringing a notebook to class, maybe even writing a paper by hand or even just avoiding using Facebook for a day, being mindful of computer usage enables Brown students to enjoy the college experience as it should be, without the interruption of technology. 


Steven Chizen '14 needs to find new friends now that his computer is broken. Email him at



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