I appreciated Claire Kelloway’s editorial from the fall, “Considering the Value of a Dollar: Perplexed by the Bald Spot Wi-Fi Proposal”, and Gaston Lopez’s editorial “Hotspot on the Bald Spot?”, both of which debated the merits of a proposal from ITS and CSA to add Wi-Fi to a few outdoor locations on campus, including the Bald Spot. If you need catching up, the basic proposal from Fall 2013 is to construct a 6-foot tower on the Bald Spot and erect antennas on buildings that neighbor highly-used outside areas on campus to broadcast Wi-Fi to students outdoors. ITS has stated it could fund this project with a budget surplus that must be spent on ITS-related improvements or upgrades. All told, the complete project would cost $15,000-$20,000 of ITS money. Warmer weather and more outdoor time have reminded students of the outdoor Wi-Fi idea. In her editorial, Kelloway focused on the dollar sum value of the project, and Lopez focused on the opportunity costs of these types of decisions. I would like to focus on Carleton’s values and persuade you that those values don’t permit us to spend this kind of money on outdoor Wi-Fi.
The Bald Spot is, first and foremost, a place for people to come together to do shared activities or just hang out. Students go to the Bald Spot for a study break, to catch up with friends, to enjoy the sunshine, grass, and trees. The Bald Spot is the focal point of interaction on campus: it’s where you casually toss a disc with friends on a sunny day; it’s where you play broomball with your floor in the winter; it’s where the NSW Frisbee Toss happens; and it’s where your class will come together for graduation. But how can all of these different activities work so well on the Bald Spot? Because it’s a blank slate that lacks visible infrastructure. The broomball posts are covered by grass in the summer, the portable warm-up hut is positioned over the covered steam tunnel for heating, the picnic tables come in the spring and go in the fall, and Patrick Dougherty’s temporary art installation “Twigonometry” was up for four years but then was taken down because it decayed as intended. The essence of the Bald Spot is cyclical transience.
Some may know the story of President Rob Oden’s April Fools’ Joke, where he rolled a bulldozer onto the Bald Spot and put up a sign displaying rendered plans of a new administrative building to be built in the middle of the quadrangle. Students were outraged until they learned it was a hoax. The outrage at the idea demonstrated (and something Oden understood) that the Bald Spot is hallowed ground. But it’s not just about a Wi-Fi tower on the Bald Spot. It’s about Wi-Fi and how we interact with the web and each other. I see laptops and tablets as isolating, reminiscent of old-school cameras with dark drapes pulled over the photographer’s head. Laptops are intended for one person to input and view information, and they don’t provide a shared experience. At your next club next meeting, take note of whether the people using technology are more or less engaged in the discussion. Few people can multitask with technology and engage in meaningful group work. I don’t buy the argument that club meetings would be greatly improved by having Bald Spot Wi-Fi.
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading on the Bald Spot, but I wonder if the Bald Spot would be a good place for personal computer work. Some Internet activities that require constant Internet connection are Google Docs, research, and Khan Academy video tutorials. I don’t see these Internet activities as enough justification to construct an outdoor Wi-Fi network. Additionally, most students would use the Bald Spot Wi-Fi on warm sunny days when there would be a lot of screen glare. We shouldn’t supplant community and face-to-face interaction on the Bald Spot with the marginal convenience that Bald Spot Wi-Fi may provide. The Bald Spot should remain the relaxed, fun heart of campus where you want to spend free time. Right now, there’s no compelling reason to spend this kind of money on outdoor Wi-Fi when wireless routers in dorms like Watson could be improved. Let’s enjoy the sunshine, grass, trees, and each other in a place where we can get away from our screens.