This summer I traveled to an island for vacation. It was a truly beautiful escape from the stressors of my daily life. Before leaving, I made what some considered a crazy decision: I was truly going to escape by unplugging from my digital world. I left “away messages” and emergency phone numbers for the hotel, but I left my iPhone, iPad, and laptop at home. For one week I received no texts, phone calls, or e-mails. There was no searching, surfing, or Facebook. I even took an old-fashioned paperback book and began this letter with a pen and piece of paper. At first I suffered some real anxiety. I could not believe how often I reached to check my absent “smart” phone. Not just for messages, but to answer questions. I realized how dependent I had become on digital information and communication.
Then, I remembered 1973, the year I entered Barnard. How exciting it was to purchase a Texas Instruments calculator. It only did the basic functions but it replaced the slide rule I had used throughout high school. What an amazing advance that calculator was! Most alumnae who attended Barnard before the computer era did research by hand, searching through dusty pages in the library, becoming experts in card catalogues. (A card catalogue sits in the lobby of Barnard library—like an artifact in a museum.) Term papers were typed on a typewriter and only halfway through my college years, the erasable ribbon was invented. There was no cut-and-paste for a major revision except with scissors and tape.
Today’s Barnard student has many more tools at her disposal. Entering The Diana Center lobby, for example, you find dozens of students sitting with laptops—some at tables, some on the floor. The café has several computers available for anyone who needs to work while sipping a latte. Although the library is still a place for research, more books are gathering dust. The library has become an outdated area for research except for the computer banks. This is a truly wired generation that needs its WiFi. In fact, Barnard students conducting research need access to a wide array of technology. Their professors need this digital access as well, not just to do research, but also to enhance their teaching.
While there is WiFi throughout the campus, the number-one complaint by students is the lack of reliable wireless and printing options on campus. Many classrooms are “technology-enhanced,” but the demand has outpaced Barnard’s available resources needed to outfit and maintain them. Fortunately, a generous donor has made it possible for the College to upgrade several classrooms and seminar rooms in Milbank and Barnard Halls with integrated digital-media systems this year. We have a long way to go. The College has made this a priority and has begun the process of improving and integrating its computer systems. The upcoming fundraising initiatives will include bold plans to provide our students with the technology they need in a new and improved space, making Barnard competitive with other colleges.
Unplugging for a vacation is a good exercise to do once in a while, but the reality is that we live in a digital world. For a competitive edge and to stay connected, we all need these tools. To move forward, Barnard needs to propel itself into hyperspace and give both its students and its faculty the cutting-edge technology they need.
All my best wishes,
Mary Ann LoFrumento ’77