An Embarrassment of Glitches

Back in the olden days of the mid- to late-1990s, when I was working my way through college doing campus tech support, we had it easy. The web–brought to us via Netscape’s web browser–arrived in the computer labs during my freshman year, while dorm room networks were an ongoing project for the next three years on campus. Many students, but not everybody for sure, had their own in-room computer. Nobody that I can recall had more than one machine, even the computer science majors. But the times they are a-changin’, as the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported (subscription required). Twenty-seven percent of college students have more than one computer on campus, according to survey, up from 19 percent five years prior. A separate, larger survey found that 21 percent of college students owned both a desktop and a laptop in 2005, up four percent from just 2004. At University of Michigan, 32 percent of students had more than one computer.

The multiple-computers-per-student phenomenon is causing major headaches for my successors in the campus tech world. The multiplication of computers on campus means more hardware troubleshooting, more virus checking, and of course, more brownouts on campus, as many dorms still resemble public housing projects from the 1970s in both accommodations and electrical capacity. Student-established wireless networks often conflict with the official campus network, which causes tech problems for all involved.

Multiple computers per person has gone from unheard of to a “need,” as many students would attest, in about a decade. What do we make of this phenomenon? I’m sure we have a number of readers who are never far from 100 gigabytes of storage, no matter where they are.

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