Apathy an obvious effect of on-line communication replacing human contact

    It’s frightening (and almost pitiable) how much of a backlash was caused by Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Director Nicholas S. Aguilar shutting down http://www.ucsduncensored.com.

    And it wasn’t so much because of the principle of a bureaucratic administration disenfranchising students from the school ‹ it seemed instead that students were horrified mostly because they were feeling a strange sense of loss and lack of connection. It was as though suddenly, with the removal of UCSD’s largest online community, a huge portion of the Triton identity had been eradicated, leaving students unsure of how to proceed.

    It was unacceptable that students should actually have to rely on face-to-face interaction, so the proletariats revolted, of course.

    You can still blog, post, comment and surf to your heart’s content at http://www.livejour-nal.com/users/ucsd, a remarkably close predecessor to http://www.ucsduncensored.com (which, incidentally, also uses the school’s copyrighted name). So there, Nick Aguilar.

    But who really won?

    Well, according to the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of U.S. colleges, in which schools are evaluated on a comprehensive number of levels, it’s definitely not the students. UCSD didn’t show up in any of the categories which you’d actually want to win: “”Best Academic Bang for Your Buck,”” “”Best Quality of Life”” or “”Most Beautiful Campus.””

    Of course, it wasn’t a total loss. UCSD did earn 5th place in “”Class Discussions Rare”” (Score!). And we’re ranked 33rd overall, after UC Berkeley and UCLA, which isn’t bad.

    But you can bet students have boosted those rankings had there been a medal for “”Most Hours Spent on AOL Instant Messenger Instead of Sleeping or Having Face-to-Face Interaction”” or “”Students Most Likely to Develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Before the Age of 24.””

    We certainly seem to have far, far more Xanga weblogrings than any other school. The “”-=| UCSD Class of 2o07 |=-“” blogring, for example, boasts 272 members (and growing), at least 200 of whom update their Xangas three or more times a week. And that’s just one of at least 25 UCSD-themed Xanga groups.

    Interestingly enough, the schools ranked by Princeton Review as having the “”Happiest Students,”” the top two of which are DePaul University in Chicago and Claremont Colleges, don’t quite seem to share the Tritons’ affinity for online communities.

    There’s only one blogring for DePaul, in fact, with just over 50 members. And Pomona College doesn’t even have its own blogring.

    That seems like a small concession to make for having America’s “”Happiest Students.”” (Needless to say, UCSD wasn’t on that list.)

    You can argue, of course, that there’s no correlation between Xangas and happy students. Sure. But how about Internet usage in general? When you start seeing away messages like “”brushing teeth”” or “”brb,”” which is the M.O. at UCSD, you have to wonder: Who are these people that can’t be away from their computers three minutes without offering some sort of explanation?

    In a generation defined by screen names and profiles as much as our counterparts in the 1980s were defined by neon spandex leggings and mullets, we’ve managed to lose sight of something even people with nightmarish hair knew: Personal contact can’t be replaced by online activities. Care Bears never talked on the phone or wrote letters because it was easier; even Lady Lovely Locks, another ’80s heroine, had her Pixietails, those little long-haired, pastel-colored birds that flew around her and didn’t leave her side.

    But today, our heroes have cool cell phones and computers. Face-to-face interaction has become close to obsolete. Think that “”The Matrix”” (and all it spawned) would have been possible without borderline-fantasy technology?

    And oh, how easily we buy into it all. Of course we love the Internet ‹ it’s convenient. We can talk to 20 friends all at once without having to waste a single minute on our cell phone plan. We can hide facial expressions or tremors in our voices just by typing, “”haha.”” And Xangas/Live Journals/Blurtys are even better ‹ it’s conversation without any of the effort. Just type some meditations on your day (Woke up late. Was on A.I.M. all night. Missed physics quiz), hit “”submit,”” and voila! The world can read your innermost thoughts, but it’s definitely at a cost.

    In her recent book “”Life on the Screen,”” in which the psychological implications of such an Internet-centered culture are examined, Sherry Turkle claims that with such excessive Internet interaction, one’s sense of self becomes decentered. In fact, this generation is moving toward multiple senses of self to adapt to the idea of various conversations going on at one time (i.e., in A.I.M.) and creating online personae (such as in Xangas, LiveJournals, and the like).

    That should come as no surprise. Online chatting puts interaction into an entirely different context. Signing off, even abruptly, has a different significance than hanging up on someone. Furthermore, the majority of people go online to chat with multiple friends, not just one ‹ which makes chatting much less personal even than making a phone call. Tone is lost over the Internet. How healthy can it be to have too much ambiguity in a relationship?

    So when there is an entire school that, with very few exceptions, really makes the most of an ethernet connection, you’re bound to end up with a significant deficiency of a real community. Sure, we can read about just about everyone’s daily lives online, but online communities (i.e. Web logs and chatrooms) certainly aren’t the same. You can’t go watch a game or have dinner with your buddy list.

    Turkle also comments that the Internet, though obviously not a drug, has become as habit-forming to people in our society as heroin. Again, no surprise. How many “”I-really-tried-to-get-off-AIM-but-just-couldn’t-do-it”” stories are there?

    But there’s hope. A.I.M. can be uninstalled and Xangas can be deleted. In fact, now’s the best time to get offline and start relying more on personal contact. College is probably the only place where one lives in such close proximity to so many people in his or her age group.

    Author Roy Blount Jr. once remarked, “”The last time somebody said, ‘I find I can write much better with a word processor,’ I replied, ‘They used to say the same thing about drugs.'””

    Soon enough, they’ll most likely be saying the same about the Internet. And in a sense, it’s a good analogy: Heroin addicts, more often than not, wind up dead. If you happen to take a stroll through Revelle College’s campus, you’ll probably notice that two perceptive freshman residents in Blake Hall have painted their own (and quite fitting) interpretation of the overall vibe at UCSD on the fifth-floor window: Welcome to UC Socially Dead.

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