University Moves Onto Infohighway

Students, Faculty, Administrators Log-On in Unprecedented Numbers

David S. Filippi '94 didn't meet his first college girlfriend in a bar, in a section or at a party.

Instead, in January of his first year, Filippi was introduced to a female student at the University of New Hampshire over the Internet, a global data communication network. They talked twice a week by electronic mail before they saw each other for the first time a month later.

"Until it actually happened I would have thought it was the most ridiculous thing," Filippi says now of the romance, which lasted three months. "I still think it's pretty humorous.

Filippi is one of just thousands of undergraduates who have registered Harvard accounts which provide access to the Internet. According to University officials, 78 percent of students at the College have accounts, and they use the network to do everything: send e-mail to old friends, turn in problem sets, read the newspaper and even fall in love.

"I used to do a small amount of e-mail" says Steven W. Wardell '94-'95, who estimates he saves $15 a month on his phone bill by sending e-mail to his girlfriend in Texas. "But when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. When you have e-mail, you start using it for everything you can."


In fact, interviews with about 100 faculty and staff members and nearly 150 students reveal that University affiliates are using e-mail and the network in unprecedented numbers and for increasingly complicated tasks. During this academic year alone, student usage of the network has doubled.

The increase has happened so fast, a two-month Crimson investigation found, that the University has so far been unable to answer new questions posed by what may be the most significant change in student life at Harvard since the institution of the core curriculum in 1979.

Simply put, the Internet is fundamentally altering the nature of communication and learning at Harvard University.

"People are more free to say things they wouldn't otherwise say," says Samuel A. Hilton '94 "It lets You speak your mind."

In fact, communication over the network--whether by e-mail or by posts to electronic newsgroups which can be accessed by anyone with an account--is unusually direct. Pleasantries and warm greetings often give way to frank comeons and biting criticisms.

"This can be an advantages," says Eugene E. Kim '96, president of the Harvard Computer Society. "You get right down to business. You can talk to strangers and have no qualms about it. In real life, if there are people sitting around talking about something, I'm not necessarily going to go up to them and interrupt."

Between 40,000 and 50,000 e-mail messages enter and leave Harvard's computer system every day, says William J. Ouchark, network manager for Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services (HASCS).

But the University's computers are not yet able to handle the load. The speed of e-mail has slowed at times to the point where the U.S. PostalService moves faster. And on numerous occasions inrecent months, the overloaded Harvard computersconnected to the Internet have crashed.

Still, the network works well enough to satisfymost students, some of whom say they got computeraccounts out of fear that the future might bepassing them by.

"One day I realized that I didn't know muchabout the Internet," Wardell says. "I decided thatnow is the best time to embrace this because youcan either embrace this or be afraid of this, andI would rather embrace this."

"The new technology is coming up so fast," headds, "that if you don't catch up to speed todayit's going to be more difficult tomorrow."

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