How Napster Opened My Eyes

Diversity. Broadening horizons. That's what college is all about, right? While many institutions of higher learning profess to offer students new perspectives as one of their main goals, their actions fail to back up their claims. Recently, a number of schools across the nation, such as Yale, Indian University and USC have restricted their students' Napster usage. This new technology, while shadowed by swirling allegations of piracy and copyright infringement, is a major tool of mental enrichment and open-mindedness available to students.

Think back to high school, just for a minute (who could bear a longer trip down memory lane) The student body was most likely divided into the typical cliques--jocks, band people, geeks, metalheads, goths, punks, hicks, just to name a few. Besides intentional differences in dress and preferred weekend social activities, a major defining characteristic of each group was their musical choice. Whether it was the rap blaring out of a low-riding Honda Civic or the twanging guitars pouring out of a Chevy pick-up's windows, individuals and groups often used music as a projection of their identity. School dances always became the musical battleground, with half the attendees refusing to dance to a particular song or musical style. Insecure teenagers used the stability of a musical genre as a defining, constant characteristic of their still nebulous, gray self-conceptions. Therefore, when their musical preferences were challenged or criticized, they reacted explosively.

Personally, I was a vehement pop music hater in high school. My conception of good music included Dave Matthews Band, alternative rock, ska-punk and little else. (Alright, so I did always have an 80s fetish). I didn't listen to much besides that, resulting in constant radio-control battles in the car with my rap-loving younger brother. Watching TRL was like being assaulted by singing Teletubbies. I couldn't tell N'SYNC and the Backstreet Boys apart, in pictures or on the radio.

Then came college, with its T3 connection, bubblegum pop-loving roommates and a newly awakened tendency for procrastination. One of my suitemates and I tried to hold out against the barrage of catchy lyrics and syncopated rhythms that constantly assaulted our ears with long listening sessions of Dave Matthews Band and Indigo Girls. But after catching myself singing along to "Hit Me Baby One More Time," I gave up the fight. I installed Napster and within a week, I had over 100 songs. No, they weren't old Less Than Jake albums--most of my new music collection consisted of sugary Top 40 ditties and short-lived 80s hits. But it expanded to include a wide variety of classical compositions, a big chunk of classic rock and even some rap and country. Now, my mp3 collection numbers around 600 and takes up about two gigabytes of space on my hard drive. Probably not what my parents envisioned I'd be using my computer for in college, but I consider it an investment in expanding my horizons.

Opening up to new musical genres was a big step for me. I had to put aside my adherence to alternative rock as a defining characteristic of my identity. Preconceived notions and stereotypes had to be discarded. It made me realize that I was secure enough to say, "Yes, I do like 'Who Let the Dogs Out'." No longer do I want to be pigeonholed by my musical preferences, nor do I judge others by theirs. I have to give full credit for my newfound security and open-mindedness to Napster, and to Harvard for allowing its use on the University servers. I pity those students at other universities who are prevented from downloading all the music that they want. Broadening musical horizons is the first step to accepting diversity in other facets of life. Unlimited Napster access--just one more reason why Harvard is better than Yale.