This story about IIT Bombay (IITB) disabling internet access in its hostels between 11pm and 12:30pm is not at first glance as hair-raising as the one about Chinese Internet de-addiction clinics, but it improves upon acquaintance.
Consider the consequences: one of the finest research tools invented by man is effectively off-limits to students for half a day (Is that really right? Or did the Economic Times flip an AM into a PM?) Of course, in the name of compulsory ’socialization,’ students will crowd into university clusters, which never quite have enough machines to accommodate the crowd.
Involvement in Open Source and Web
2.0 projects will drop because budding programmers at IITB will lose access just when many of them are most productive — given extremely hot Indian summers and the lack of air-conditioning in most (practically all?) dorm rooms, night-time is often the most comfortable time to start a long hack session.
Of course, the most enterprising students (especially in departments like Electronics and Computer Science) will probably use their ability to access department networks to get around this interruption in service, but a more interesting question is: in 2007, should students really have to wrangle for network time?
The point about regulations like these is that they demonstrate the knee-jerk short-term thinking that passes for leadership in many Indian institutions. Apparently the drivers for this decision included the death of IITB’s “hostel culture” (by which they mean late night vodka parties, night shows at cinemas and card games — oh wait, that was my misspent youth) and, rather more seriously, a string of on-campus suicides by some loners. Of course, while it is regrettable, it has to be asked: are the vast majority of well-adjusted (and not-so-well adjusted, trying-to-cope) students well-served by over-paternalistic regulations? Pre-Internet hostels weren’t exactly idylls.
And if IITB is scared of internet in the hostels, wait until they hear about this newfangled thing called wifi in classrooms:
“At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90% of the students were online,” Professor Herzog says. “And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started…. And I was just stunned.”
There’s the paternalist, knee-jerk reaction of banning the undesirable, so typical of India (Here’s another great example). Then there’s the embracing of the new, and treating students like responsible human beings:
I also tend to wander around the room a lot (I’m one of those don’t-stay-behind-the-lectern professors), which may discourage some of that behavior. And I tend to call on the students who don’t seem engaged. But I don’t make any particular effort to ensure that students aren’t surfing or IM-ing or whatever. They’re grownups. If they’re willing to risk their grades, and to look dumb when they’re called on, well, I’m willing for them to do that too.