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For the first 340 years of Harvard College's existence—from the quill and ink-well to the ball-point pen—ownership of the means of production has been within the reach of all students. When this equality was threatened by the typewriter, a production tool beyond the means of some students, the University installed typewriters in the libraries. Those who were unable to purchase typewriters could still have access to them and not be unfairly disadvantaged in grading.
A new spectre is haunting Harvard College, one that threatens to disrupt equal access to the means of production—the spectre of personal computers. Like the typewriter of the last generation, preeminent mode of production. Because of its prohibitive price, however, only the more wealthy can acquire one.
Harvard's response to the unequal ownership of computers was initially patterned after the typewriter challenge. The University installed 40 MacIntoshes in the basement of the Science Center and made these available to all—albeit with priority going to those in computer science courses. In this way, equal access to the latest means of production was roughly maintained.
At the beginning of this semester, however, under a policy that might be termed "Apple apartheid," Harvard prohibited paper production (called "word processing") on the 40 MacIntoshes, and limited their use exclusively to computer science and math. Those who wish to use the Macs for word processing are now turned away—even if none of the computers are being used.
In establishing unequal access to the means of production, Harvard has fostered the emergence of a class society in a sphere traditionally characterized by classlessness. As a result, our undergraduate community is becoming increasingly fractured into two great camps directly facing each other: computer-owner and computer-deprived.
Harvard has attempted to forstall the entrenchment of computer haves and have-nots by encouraging all its students to become haves, and by offering them discounted MacIntoshes through its Office of Information Technology. This policy has had some success, and a substantial minority of undergraduates now have personal computers in their rooms. Even so, it ignores the fundamental reality that some simply can not afford to purchase a computer—no matter how low the Office of Information Technology prices them.
By restricting the computer-deprived to the Science Center's time-sharing terminals, Harvard has replaced equal access to the means of production with avowedly separate but unequal facilities. The word processing available on these terminals, according to User Services Coordinator Eileen Honin, "is not a user-friendly type of thing" and presents some difficulties for students who are not science-oriented. "I can't make heads or tails of it," said humanities concentrator Sarai Brachman '88. With MacWrite, said Honin, "You don't have to know anything about computers to use it."
The Computer Age which Harvard brings to its students thus springs from the very heart of the bourgeoisie. While glorifying middle-class consumerism, it ignores the plight of those unable to partake of its fruits—at most, it provides them with a safety net full of holes.
The non-computer owners most certainly constitute a socio-economic class. The Harvard Establishment, nonetheless, has forestalled the formation of class-consciousness among them by a clever, two-pronged strategy. First, through the process of cultural hegemony, the University has spread its cheery vision of the Computer Age so effectively that even those unable to afford computers have adopted its values.
Second, Harvard has encouraged the computer have-nots to blame themselves for their condition--thus leading them to channel their frustration and anger upon themselves, and away from the Establishment. The Wonders of the Computer Age are yours for the asking, the University tells them, but the initiative must be your own.
The check book also, apparently.
Since the imposition of Jim MacCrow at the Science Center, these former Mac Users are now branded "Mac Abusers" if they dare venture into the segregated computer room. Unable to return to pre-modern methods of production, and without the capital to purchase the contemporary means for themselves, they are forced to lead a marginal existence in the Computer Age. Living off the benificence of Mac-owning friends and acquaintences, these pathetic souls never know where their next slot of computer-time will come from. Some have even been driven to the personals columns of local newspapers. "Single, male, good-looking Harvard student seeks female with 512K," read one recent advertisement.
Harvard boasts of its laissez-faire computer policy; for those with lean pocketbooks, it might be more accurately described as malign neglect. The University does not simply leave those unable to afford personal computers out in the cold—it burns them with scorn and degradation.
The historical necessities are clear: non-computer owning Harvardians must recognize themselves as an oppressed class, and (joined by their enlightened allies from the computer-owning class) wage revolutionary struggle for an admittedly reactionary ideal—equal access to the modern means of paper production for all.
This essay was written on the author's roommate's MacIntosh.
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