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2013 Fall Issue 4 (October 18, 2013)

Hotspot on the Bald Spot?

October 18, 2013
By Gaston Lopez

When it comes to any decision, from the mundane (Burton or LDC today?) to the dire (shall I launch the warheads, Mr. Secretary?), we are faced with an opportunity cost. I’ll spare the economics lecture – we should already be familiar with trade-offs since we swapped our homemade baloney sandwiches for a Lunchables box with a friend in 5th grade. The CSA is now considering a decision that, while neither mundane nor dire, is a pressing matter both financially and socially for all of us. As thoughtful people, we the people whom the CSA serves must carefully consider the implications of this phrase that could become another part of our lives if we chose so: “Wi-Fi on the Bald Spot.”

It is certain that Wi-Fi is spotty at the fringes of the Bald Spot, accessing the wireless points at buildings bordering the lawn. And you may have had the experience of walking outside of the Libe or Hulings while browsing the internet on your phones, only to lose connection – a slight annoyance but one that’s livable. Absence of Wi-Fi is noticeable, and peculiar at that since Carleton has been part of the trend towards providing Wi-Fi in institutions of higher education, what with the greater spread of laptops and mobile devices in the past decade. Our new devices and computers have already allowed us as students to have greater spread in research, more interactive study methods, better finesse in composing essays, and even more immediate means to communicate. A wireless network has potential to take us further. Research conducted at Ohio University have found the benefits of wireless for individual learning to include:  “providing a choice of location, [a] better learning environment, flexibility of time, easy involvement in group projects, and improved communication with instructors and other learners.” These are surely great benefits to have anywhere on campus.

So why the Bald Spot? We may already do reading with laptops or use our phone data on the (for now) green, yet a CSA Senate member close to the matter has shed light on a social benefit. With Wi-Fi, this member argues, clubs may be able to meet on the Bald Spot and use it for club activities or leisure. Going further on his argument, I can imagine that the Bald Spot could become a renewed and lively hangout, or a kind of outdoors Sayles, with everyone being able to do their readings of Plath or linear algebra homework to the sounds of the breeze rustling tree branches – a working idyll. The center of campus would indeed become “the center” for everyone. We can both be productive and have fun in a new way.

So why not have this great vision of the wireless heart of the Bald Spot? ITS has already answered this problem twofold long ago on Carlpedia, and the opinions of ITS have actually been espoused by some of us on campus without knowing it. First, it’s expensive. The price so far for the 6-foot hotspot pole(s) to be erected has been estimated to be between $15,000 and $20,000. Now let the zeroes sink in. We have been already concerned about the use of Weitz in justifying its costs, and are considering new music and science structures in the coming future, and the coming future is already costly to begin with. Second, it would not be used for half the year (i. e., the winter) since winter will definitely deter our current state of the use of the lawn, and the ice rinks will be up anyway.

The arguments against Wi-Fi on the Bald Spot are founded on very valid points of the opportunity costs involved – and they may not seem so given the scant information there is on a nascent proposal. Indeed, the price of the hotspots is jarring enough in a time of austerity that we invoke greater priorities for the money. For fear of being fleeced and unsure of the funding, we oppose. Add this on the given limited use of the Bald Spot in the winter. Further, who’s to say we’ll truly be more productive socially with Wi-Fi – the Bald Spot could become a new center of procrastination too. And I would be amiss to forget NIMBS – “Not In My Bald Spot!” Can we live with any possible alteration of the aesthetic beauty of our campus quadrangle? All these sentiments could make Wi-Fi an undesirable option. Given the current opposition to the proposal, it behooves all of us Carls to inform their representatives and the CSA Senate at large about it, whether it be for or against it.

Yet this should not exclude any possibility for further debate or dialogue. Our current opposition is a knee-jerk one, but it is worth noting that the idea has not even been formalized. There are no exact costs, no exact plans as of yet, not even a plan for placement for the hotspot pole(s). Although it is our responsibility to be critical of important decisions, we are also called to be critically attentive to every aspect of the proposal, and when it’s ready, we must listen before we draw any conclusions. If we are to agree, we need evidence. If we are to disagree, we need evidence too. In fact, that we are informing the CSA of our concerns may shape the Wi-Fi proposal into something palatable, and there may be a chance to revive the lost art of the compromise.

In the meantime, we’ll all enjoy our “Wi-Fi free Bald Spot,” so ITS tells us. At least for now, if you’d like. Just be sure to know what that means.

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