Science and Medicine

EMERGING FROM THE
ELECTRONIC CAVE

Instead of creating isolation, computers help build friendships

By Janet Basu


Consider Zachary,* made to order for isolation by computer. A self-described loner, he asked for a single room when he arrived as a freshman in 1995. His room, like most at Stanford, was wired directly to the university’s computer network. Critics of this “plug-per-pillow” arrangement said it would lead students to hide in their electronic caves, avoiding face-to-face interaction, not to mention ruining the chance to develop the proper wrist action for Frisbee. Zachary was poised to be their poster boy.

His dorm, Rinconada House in Wilbur Hall, was the first college dorm in the world with its own web page and one of the first to use “listserv” software that permitted all 96 residents to send and read e-mail messages circulated to the entire group. Zachary soon plugged in to these online discussions and became one of the list’s most frequent correspondents.


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Isolation city? Au contraire. At meals, other students sought him out to comment about his online musings. People dropped by his room to talk. Over the year, resident fellows Rich and Roni Holeton watched Zachary gradually

Emerging from the Electronic Cave (Plain text)

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MARCH/APRIL 1998

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