Ever seen PCU?
It came out while I was still in college, and being of that vintage, I relate to it. Remember the scene where Tom runs through the computer lab, where scads of students are cranking away on year-end thesis papers and trips over the main plug that supplies power to all the computers?
Maybe not so much, but that scene was very common when I went to college. I’m willing to bet it was pretty common for most of you too. Several people I knew had computers, but not very many had laptops. Kids still wrote longhand in notebooks, and we all had lots of floppies, the 3.5 inch ones.
And even if you had your own computer, you more than likely still had to spend time in a computer lab, whether to print or complete an assignment that required a specific piece of software you couldn’t install on your computer.
Not surprisingly, today’s colleges are very different. Laptops prevail, due to their cheapness and obvious portability benefit. Some schools have taken note, and I read today that at least one school, UVA, is effectively shuttering its computer labs to save costs. This makes good sense, especially when 99% of incoming freshman own computers; only four in a class of 3,117 did not own a computer. I wonder what it would be like to be one of those four.
The same UVA study in 1997 showed that only 74% of incoming freshman had computers, which initially felt high to me, but then again, in the twilight of my college years, students with computers were becoming a lot more common, allowing me to spread my mooching across more victims.
Even so, I did spend a lot of time in one one of the half a dozen or so computer “clusters”, most frequently for computer science classes, but also for other classes too. Looking back, it feels like each year there were more computer-based assignments, which contributed to higher demand for the clusters and to more computers in each of them.
So, I have nostalgic memories of Mountain Dew and Jack in the Box consumed in the wee hours of the morning, debugging some game I’d written in Pascal, and it makes me a little sad that the labs will be transforming into co-working spaces.
But what choice do universities have? Ars quotes UVA vice president James Hilton from The Chronicle of Higher Education as saying that the labs cost the university $300,000 to run each year. Even though transforming the labs into other spaces won’t yield a $300,000 annual savings, it will help. At the very least, the university would save on bandwidth and support costs.
And now seems like a good time to find ways to save money.
Anyway, reading this made me sad for the old days. I’m sure many of you have fond memories of nights spent in computer labs.
Share them in comments. Oh, and if you have other thoughts, share those too.
And re/watch PCU. Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jon Favreau, and P-Funk. Good times.