I first knew that I entered a warp zone on move-in day. Upon dragging my duffel bag up the front steps of the MIT fraternity house -- my abode for the summer -- I was greeted by a sophomore with a laser encoding gadget dangling from his belt loop. His job was to activate and distribute computer-recognized sensors that unlocked the frat house doors. Apparently they discarded those outdated mechanical lock-and-key apparatuses years ago.
"You don't even have to swipe your card, just hold your purse or backpack near the sensor," he informed me. "The master system recognizes you immediately and opens the door."
As he assigned me a number and scanned my plastic disk-key, I couldn't help but blurt, "Who installed this system in a fraternity house, is George Jetson an alum?" He told me that a few of the brothers installed it themselves on fraternity workday. Yikes.
Sensor situation settled, I climbed the staircase and located my room. It was spacious enough -- two desks, two dressers and a sofa fit comfortably. Then it struck me; where were the beds? My eyes rose upwards. Suspended three feet from the ceiling by reinforced two by fours, two double beds loomed ominously overhead. At first glance it seemed to me a phenomenal engineering feat. Then my safety paranoia kicked in. Did some first-year "mechie" design this airborne-bed contraption as well?
I snagged a loitering boy from the hall, whom I stereotypically assumed had some knowledge of structural engineering. This was not based on his physical appearance, but on the robotic shock-absorbing dolly that he used to move his entertainment center. Keeping calm, I politely inquired about the structural soundness of the sky beds.
"Those triangular reinforcements are way strong. By our calculations each bed can hold up to 1,000 pounds," he obligingly reassured me.
I asked if he slept in one. "Oh yeah, almost every room has them -- we build a few more every workweek. It frees up so much floor space." I scanned my brain for an occasion when a weight larger than 1,000 pounds would find need to be on my bed. Unsuccessful, I dismissed Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky.
Much to my surprise, I soon enjoyed sleeping in the sky-haven. Zipping in and out of the house, unencumbered by fumbling keys, was also liberating. Shortly thereafter other technologies welded their way into my life.
The entire house was wired for Ethernet, a luxury in which I hadn't been able to indulge since freshman year. The phone system played "Queen's Greatest Hits" while it connected callers to my room. An entertainment center with coordinated DVD, CD, TV, video, PlayStation and lights presided over every lounge.
I also relished being surrounded by mechanical and technological expertise. At the thought of setting up my computer every semester, I break out in hot flashes and waves of panic. At MIT I was ail-free: two of my technological sugar daddies set up my computer and connected me to the house MP3 sharing network. One night a few weeks later, I mentioned that the wheels on my roller blades were sticking, and seven guys immediately pounced on my skates. The next morning I had new bearings.
The MIT frat guys fanatically amassed all kinds of information, but it was heavily skewed towards science, technology and sports. They loved trivia games, or any other form of mental masturbation. The house owned all Trivial Pursuit editions since the mid-90s, and the guys played upwards of two times a week.
As my Cornell roommate and I discovered early in June however, an intimate knowledge of Trivial Pursuit does not make up for a good ol' liberal arts education. Because the MIT Trivial Pursuit aficionados' skills were seriously weighted on the "Science & Technology" and "Sports" categories, my roommate and I effortlessly earned a reputation as "Hustlas" in "Arts and Entertainment," "History" and "Literature." Amazed "oohs" and "ahhs" resounded from the crowd when we nonchalantly spouted answers like, "Gaugain," "Tolstoy" and "The Ford Theater." The basics of art, literature and history apparently skipped over these guys while they were in fluids lab.
The MIT frat house was cheap and social, but these were only residual perks. More valuable was the appreciation for technology that I developed while living in an environment fused with passion for Pentium processors and mania for mechanical engineering. When life is dramatically convenienced by technology, you can't help but cultivate gratitude for it. After spending the summer at the frat house, technology held a higher spot on my "worthwhile" list.
But my rent buck didn't stop there. I also learned the value of a liberal arts education -- it gives me the ability to call forth otherwise useless facts for my future debut on Jeopardy, the occasional dinner party and Chapter House Trivia Night every Sunday. That's what a well-rounded education does; it pumps you with insights and facts, no matter how small and obscure, to use in everyday life. And it adds up to something more useful than useless. Conversations demand knowledge every day, and enough minor facts coalesce to form critical perspective and insight. It makes sense to get a well-rounded liberal arts education.
All of this, and a pad on Commonwealth Ave., for just $400 a month. Not too shabby.
Archived article by Andrea Forker