Ten years ago yesterday I was at the same place I was twenty years ago — on the Binghamton University campus in upstate New York. (In 1991 I was a student, in 2001 I was advising a statewide student organization.)
I woke up in Albany on the morning of September 11, and drove on empty highways to Binghamton for a scheduled meeting, listening to reports of the attacks on the radio. A few days later I wrote this summary of what I found when I arrived:
Binghamton was surprisingly subdued — much calmer than I’d seen it when the Gulf War started in January 1991. Lots more people have cable in their dorms now than did then, though, so I expect most of the students who were really worried were in their rooms by the phone.
In 1991, if you wanted to keep up with a breaking news story on a college campus, you usually had to go to the student union and gather around a communal television. In 2001 if you wanted to keep in touch with family you needed to stay in your dorm room.
Ten years ago, twenty years ago. No Facebook, no Twitter. Today you can sit on a couch in the union surrounded by dozens of your fellow students while you hear your parents’ voices from a hundred miles away and read what your friends are doing on their couches in their unions all over the country. All at the same time. You don’t have to choose between connecting with a global experience and your local community and your far-flung networks of loved ones. You used to have to choose, but you don’t anymore.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how impoverished the Beloit College “mindset list” is, how trivial and how silly. But it’s not just in matters of educational policy and campus politics that the list missed the mark. The American campus, and the American student experience, is changing in all sorts of ways, in ways it’s easy for both students and faculty to miss.
Technology doesn’t shatter community, it transforms it.