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Under the Cushions Cyberspresso

for the moment

By Elizabeth M. Angell

Tomorrow morning will mark the long-awaited grand opening of Cybersmith, a cafe/store/technofest that is the first venture of its kind. This trial marriage of computer and coffeehouse cultures is located at 36 Church Street; just follow your nose to the Border, and then look next door. Cybersmith founder Marshall Smith, whose previous successes include Videosmith and Learningsmith, says he aims to "introduce people to new technology...in an atmosphere that isn't totally high tech" His store will offer three main services; access to the Internet, the latest in CD-ROM equipment and virtual reality encounters--all while sipping cappuccino and nibbling on pie.

One dollar buys a six-month Cybersmith membership, complete can then buy time at a computer terminal--a virtual reality "experience" costs five dollars, with games and net exploration selling for 17 and a half cents per minute. All of this fancy gadgetry is housed in a sleek new space, complete with track lighting and shiny hardwood floors, with booths set up around computers. Customers can order a selection of coffee drinks, pastries and sandwiches from "Smitty's On-line Cafe," which stands in the center of the room.

While many of the cyber-offerings are superfluous to Harvard students, given our access to fas and the Science Center computer lab, Smith heralds the user-friendliness of Cybersmith--largely due to its knowledgable staff. "Technosmiths" will roam the floors in search of bewildered customers needing assistance.

If all else fails, though, there is always something to buy. Interested in a subscription to Wire or a copy of the latest CD-ROM format magazine? Dying to access Internet services like America Oh-Line? Books, computer games, and even Cybersmith T-shirts abound. Egotistical individuals, as well as those searching for grandparental gifts, can have their faces photograped and the images morphed, to be featured on a T-Shirt, mug, chase a screen saver depicting one's head as a bouncing ball. As Smith notes, "photographs no longer represent reality. They represent what you want them to represent."

Both Smith and software designer Joe Chung, his collaborator on this enterprise, reject the notion of technology as impersonal and cold. "Technology can bring people together," says Chung, who describes Cybersmith as "a cool place where people can come to learn."

Students craving refuge from the world of papers and assignments may find Cybersmith an unsatisfying study break site. If you just want to relax, the sound of clicking keyboards may drive you back to Algiers; if economy is what you're after, stick to ABP. But for Harvardians curious about the net and frightened by the stark and subterranean Science Center, Cybersmith aims to please. It's driven by the profit motive, after all, and you certainly won't get kicked motive, after all, and you certainly won't get kicked out for ingesting caffeine while you netsurf away.

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