In the Groovy Train

For the Moment

First guy: "Hey! I was there first!"

Second guy: "Grunt."

First guy: "Move it or lose it."

Second guy: "Make me, freakshow!"




Guess where the above Harvard scene took place:

A) The third row of a Kiss concert in Sanders, festival seating.

B) Beavis's living room in the Mather lowrise.

C) The basement of the Science Center at one of the e-mail terminals.

If you guessed C), congratulations! You've got your finger on the pulse of the Harvard student body. That's right--in the past few years electronic mail, known to the initiated as e-mail, has undergone a transformation in campus culture. Once a badge of geek-hood, a communication system for computer studs across the world, it has become more popular than almost any other activity--including, for many, studying. Its devotees include everyone from hard-core hackers to the computer-illiterate masses.

Richard Steen, director of computer services at the Science Center, points to an over-whelming increase in electronic mail use over the past two years. While only 59% of the senior class have accounts, 80% of sophomores are registered e-mail junkies, as are 75% of first-years, whose numbers are expected to increase over the next few months.

"Our machines handle over 12,000 messages a day, which amounts to over three million a year," notes Steen. Altogether, a whopping 69% of undergraduates (4673 students) have joined the ranks. Why this sudden urge to log in?

Actually, the e-mail boom is easy to understand. It links students at colleges all over the country. It's less trouble than mailing a letter. And hey, it's free (with each purchase of a $24,000-a-year education).

But none of that pinpoints e-mail's greatest draw: its time-wasting value. More respectable than Tetris, less obvious than just Plain Vegging, e-mail provides a welcome respite from the brain-sizzling intellectual workout students subject themselves to in demanding classes like "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization."