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The Haves and the Have-nots

laptops(featurecreature)– On Sunday, February 17th, I remember the exact moment I stopped functioning. At dinner with two of my friends, I pulled out my small Dell PC to finish some studying. The friend next to me pulled out her less-than-a-year-old Mac as well.  It was six thirty-two pm when I scrolled to refresh my Federalist Papers e-reserve when I realized I couldn’t. I clicked again, finding the screen still frozen. I glanced at my friend’s screen—a side-by-side Shakespeare to Sparknotes window popped up for Richard III.

Over the next few hours, I tried every trouble-shoot I could—trying to connect to Town wifi, using my iPod Touch, asking my floor-mates if they were having problems, trying to find my reading at Frost library—but nothing solved my problem. Neither of my devices were even displaying an Amherst College wi-fi connection, but my friends, who all had Macintoshes that were less than two-years-old were typing away on Youtube, Facebook, and tumblr. I went to bed that night, head empty of studies and unprepared for classes.

In class, there were similar problems. Students who could afford to print out the reading (a whopping seventy-eight pages) sat smugly as laptop carriers tried and failed to connect. The pattern was further emphasized–no PC could connect and only two of the six Mac owners present had success. Frustrated with the lack of means, the professor ended class twenty minutes earlier and promised to get a better printable version up on Moodle.

Immediately after class, I headed to Seeley Mudd, prepared to ask for help. My baby computer, a Christmas gift from 2011, was tucked under my arm. But first a trip to one of the empty computers to check my email. A message from John Manly confirmed my worst-case scenario and I put my laptop away. It was an outage, yes, but not campus-wide.

The Amherst College wireless network is experiencing a serious outage. In general, only some computers and devices (such as some newer Macs that connect over the 5 GHz band) can see and connect to Amherst, Amherst Secure, and Eduroam, the three network IDs that constitute the Amherst wireless network.

“Newer.” That was the word that got me. It was just another reminder of what I didn’t have, a reminder of I couldn’t afford, a reminder of how I wasn’t exactly good enough.

It struck me that even with being in the top 3% of my high school class and gaining admittance into a top school, I was still notgood enough. No diploma or degree would let me forget it. Other people forget. As a matter of fact, we all try very hard to forget just how unbalanced the student body is.

We take the same courses, play on the same sports teams, and sleep in the same dorms. Amherst College boasts how large our endowment fund is, and the diversity outreach extended for Open Houses and such displays this, but…

There’s always a “but.” Always a “but” or a sigh or forced smile when your classmate declines to eat out because they can’t afford to, when your dorm-mate hesitates to donate money for your fundraiser, when your teammate does laundry so often because they can’t afford new clothes yet. We try so hard to ignore the differences, but they’re always there.

The service outage was a particularly painful reminder because it was an accident. It couldn’t be avoided as easily as shaking off a Bueno y Sano invitation. The proof was plain in Monday classes—who had their laptops open and who didn’t, who had the reading done and who didn’t. In a larger school, with the usual free campus-wide printing, perhaps it wouldn’t have been as noticeable. But in a tiny liberal arts school with only two free printers (one with limited operating hours and the other with constant malfunctions), the victory is given to those with deep pockets, pockets of substantial AC Dollars or Best Buy ink cartridges.

The outage was not planned, not malicious in nature yet it affected in a tumultuous strike of a chord. The sense of inadequacy lingered long after the outage resolution. And the fear hovers in the back of the mind in the dismay that such an accidental reminder could happen again.

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12 comments on “The Haves and the Have-nots

  1. Realist
    March 13, 2014

    Welcome to life… not the schools fault

    • Liya Rechtman
      March 13, 2014

      Read the article, I don’t think this author is blaming the school: “The service outage was a particularly painful reminder because it was an accident.” and also “The outage was not planned, not malicious in nature yet it affected in a tumultuous strike of a chord.” I think this writer does a particularly good job of recognizing that this was not an administrative fault but an accident that exposed underlying inequalities.

      • Anonymous
        March 13, 2014

        It is not a matter of money but a matter of newer technology. The fact is that if you had bought your laptop in the past year, it would have worked. So your point that the outage exposed inequalities is just false: it just exposed those with newer laptops. Maybe an article about students without laptops would be a better investment of this writers time.

  2. I See Your Point, but Next Time...
    March 13, 2014

    I agree with your assessment that we make a handful of socioeconomic assumptions here that can alienate people who feel like outsiders.

    However, I can’t help but feel like you didn’t attempt to fully access the array of resources available to you here that could have solved this problem.

    You should have simply gone to one of the two open computer labs on campus or any of the half dozen or so public terminals and downloaded the file, saved it to a cd or flash drive and transferred it as offline stored data to your computer.

    But let’s assume that maybe you don’t have any blank CDs or flash drives (both of which are pretty cheap). I’m surprised that you didn’t attempt to use a hardwired internet connection via ethernet. Even if you didn’t have an ethernet cord, or a friend with an ethernet cord, you again could have used one in the library.

    Also, I think you might be overestimating the price of printing here. Black and white is exceptionally cheap. It is 5 cents per page, with the option of reducing document size to make two pages fit on a single sheet. This would mean that printing out the 78 page document would clock in at under $2. I realize that even this small price might be too much, but I bet you could easily get a reimbursement from the school given the circumstances: you were forced to print a document necessary for class because of the school’s tech problems.

    Finally, email your professor next time! Every professor I’ve ever had has been understanding about financial issues. If they aren’t, then that needs to be conveyed to the administration.

    You are making a good point about how class matters more than we think here, but your argument is weakened by your poor problem solving.

  3. Anonymous
    March 13, 2014

    So a diverse socioeconomic student body is desirable, but only when these differences are not visible? Because of you are reminded of them, then the student body is “unbalanced”? Well, diversity and homogeneity are kinda mutually exclusive.
    And yeah, it would be cool if the school paid for everyone to live according to the standard of the richest.

    But what would really be cool is if people would start elevating the discussion.. What you propose (free printing, etc.) is to hide the symptoms of the corrupted, completely non-egalitarian aspects of our society and make the Amherst bubble that much thicker. We always talk about how we should be inclusive of the small percentage of the exemplary underprivileged students instead of actually questioning the status quo.

  4. Anonymous
    March 13, 2014

    cost of printing a 78 page reading = (39 pages) * ($.05) = $1.95, or approximately 13.5 minutes working at Val

    also, PCs running Windows 8 generally could not connect to Amherst wifi, while PCs running Windows 7 generally could connect to Amherst wifi

  5. Anonymous
    March 13, 2014

    Two words – shit happens.

    My lappy’s as old as yours. I experienced the outage too. On top of that, my family’s annual income is ~$6000 (six thousand US dollars). And not for a second did I think “oh my god, this world is so unfair, the rich get to print their reading and access the internet for an hour while I cannot”. This article kind of sounds like #firstworldproblems.

    I was born immediately following a civil war in my country, during the biggest hyperinflation ever, under economic sanctions from the UN. I know very well what it means to not have something. And I don’t see a point to being bitter about it. Just keep your head up high, keep working towards your goal, keep your dreams firm in your sights, everything’s gonna be alright. Money’s a necessary evil in this world, but as an Amherst student, you’re already well on your way to having enough of it later in life. Even then, there are gonna be richer people, and there are gonna be things you can’t afford, or things you can’t influence. And when they do happen, just say “oh well, shit happens” and try and take advantage of the newfound circumstances – without Facebook and Youtube as distractions, you might feel inspired to write a kickass poem, or go for a nice walk in the nature, or get an idea for an AC Voice article… oh wait. :)

    tl;dr: Don’t worry about the others. Make the most of what you have, and enjoy your time here. Some of the richer people are also real sweethearts. The socioeconomic difference is only an issue if you make it one.

  6. Anonymous
    March 13, 2014

    ^ I am glad that you have been able to find some important positive takeaways from what sounds like a terrible situation. However, it seems that you are advocating complacency and an it’s-alright-I’ll-get-mine mentality. Why not tackle the problem of socioeconomic inequality, rather than accepting that “shit happens”?

    • Anonymous
      March 14, 2014

      Quite the contrary. I just don’t waste time and energy on lamenting on things I can’t fix (and this was force majeure, so it’s pretty much the epitome of “can’t fix”). I make do with what I have and make the most of it. It’s the attitude that led me to Amherst, the entire 4500 miles. And the attitude I hope will carry me further in life. Just a better allocation of resources, if you will. These are tiny things, not worth getting upset about. I like to keep my smile on at all times.

      As for the problem of socioeconomic equality in general, how do you intend to fix it? No amount of activism can go against the current state – it’s synonymous with capitalism. (If you’re a commie, then that’s great and we can be friends :P) On the other hand, if I just roll with it for now, become filthy stinking rich, and redistribute wealth once I have it – now that can bring about some change. Yes, I’m oversimplifying, it’s late and I have homework to do. :) But I don’t see what else Amherst can do to combat socioeconomic inequality. Hell, they’re already spending tens of thousands of dollars so I can get an education. Can’t say I’m not grateful.

      • '13
        March 14, 2014

        Well said! I was going to comment on the post with the questions about printing math, but those were already stated. I want to echo what you said, as somebody else who would not have been able to attend Amherst without financial aid, my main feeling about my circumstances was always one of gratitude.

  7. Adrian '14
    March 14, 2014

    While I think the inequalities the author is trying to highlight do exist, but I think the author chose a bad example. The wifi outage is a piss-poor example for inequality, because it’s really just an example of how fast technology moves. Wifi technology is constantly improving, and as the FCC frees up more bandwidth, new frequencies are used for wifi. Different frequencies require different antennas to receive the wireless signal. The fact that most PCs and older macs could not connect to the network reflects more on the fact that the 5 GHz band is relatively new. Only laptops purchased in the last year(ish) would have been able to connect. My laptop (a cheap ASUS budget model) could not connect to the network, but that is because it was about a year old. The latest model, which costs the same, includes an updated radio, that would have been able to connect, despite the fact that it is several hundreds of dollars cheaper than any macbook. Reading this article I think that the author and I fall on the same side of the issue of socioeconomic inequality, but I also get the sense that the author has no idea what they’re talking about. Instead of researching the root causes behind the outage, the author tried to spin it as a tale of savage inequalities, which it simply is not.

  8. Josh
    March 15, 2014

    As someone from a similar economic background and who wouldn’t be here without significant financial aid: please stop. Or at least don’t continue to make it seem that to go to school here is so traumatizing because some people have more money than you (or I) do. It’s a reality of the world we live in, and I’d say it’s significantly less apparent here at Amherst, where the financial aid is one of the most generous in the entire country. Sure it’s uncomfortable and makes me feel bad to not be able to donate money to a table set up in Val, but what do you propose Amherst do about that? Ban all fundraisers so we aren’t reminded about what we don’t have? Playing the victim card accomplishes nothing. Like was said in the comments above: shit happens.

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