Home Improvement

Swapping ‘swiping’ for the convenience of Prox-Cards

My wallet is frayed, and I’m not alone; I find that this is a common affliction among Harvard students. It’s frayed from pulling out my ID card several times a day in order to swipe it through machines that serve various purposes all over campus. I do this not once but twice, for example, during the jaunt from courtyard to bedroom.

After five semesters of such swipery, my wallet is on the verge of a nervous collapse; it just wasn’t meant for this kind of extreme use. I estimate that I remove my ID card from my wallet more than twenty times a day.

Yet this mass murder of wallets is totally avoidable on campus. Many other schools use ID cards with proximity antennae. Yale is one such school.

My envy of Yale’s ID cards dates back to my experience at 2003’s Harvard-Yale game. I was staying in Branford, one of Yale’s residential colleges, with a friend from high school. Returning from some late-night revelry, it so happened that my host was already asleep. And so it was that I found myself locked out of the entryway. I patiently waited for an Eli to come by so that I could be swiped in. Several crimson-colored sweatshirts passed me by before I found a gentleman wearing a white t-shirt with a picture of a bulldog copulating, “doggie style,” with a somewhat distressed-looking pilgrim in crimson. I knew I was in luck. After a polite request, he walked up to the door and positioned his posterior in front of the card reader. Magically, the door clicked open.

I was amazed, and inquired how such a feat could be accomplished.

“I don’t know,” he said, “some kind of chip or something.”

These sophisticated IDs are called Prox-Cards, and it isn’t unreasonable to ask Harvard to install them in residential dorms on campus. This year, University President Lawrence H. Summers allocated over $6 million to fund student space. In previous years, the College allocated $20,000 to each House for gym renovations from the discretionary budget. Why don’t we use a little bit of next year’s discretionary budget to install this convenient technology?

In Lowell House there are about 18 entryways. For good measure, let’s say that with the library, dining hall, and basement entrances, there are 30 “swipe-points” currently in Lowell. At $175 per reader it would still only cost $5,250 to buy proximity card readers for all of Lowell. And Lowell is one of the biggest Houses; the costs would be much lower for Houses like Currier with fewer points of entry.

I know I’m neglecting the costs of installation and printing the new cards, but it seems unlikely that the cost would approach $20,000 per House, which was the cost of the gym upgrades a few years ago. I’d even be willing to pay a higher penalty for lost ID cards if I could remove the act of swiping from my daily repertoire.

Like most amenities, Prox-Cards would be taken for granted after a few years like they are at other schools, but they would continue to make a difference in the lives of students. In this case then, the convenience outweighs the costs.



Joshua P. Rogers ’07, a Crimson news editor, is an economics concentrator in Lowell House.