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IIT, disconnected. What will the geeks do now?

Roti, kapda aur internet

It is said that one can live on love and fresh air alone. The first is scarce on the IIT campus, so they’re happy enough with unlimited access to the internet. But, that may be changing.

IIT Bombay recently decide to ban internet access to all hostels between 11pm and 12.30 pm from 12th March 2007. This move is aimed at changing the ‘dysfunctional’, ‘non-social’ and reclusive lifestyle of its students, who spend hours online – chatting, orkutting, downloading games and movies etc.

I can understand the concerns of the administration. When I visited IIMA a while ago, the dorms had a deserted appearance. It wasn’t term break – people just don’t feel the need to hang out in the common area on every floor. They’d rather communicate online.

The same story at IIM Indore. A student told me if he needed a book from his next door neighbour he’s more likely to ‘ping’ him than simply holler out. Luckily one can’t ingest nutrients via internet, or these dudes would perhaps be seen only once a week in the real world.

On the one hand, it’s sad to see the forlorn carrom board, silent common telephone (with everyone having cellphones who needs them anymore!) and lack of visible camaraderie. Of course, the same spirit and ethos has been recreated online. But is it an equal substitute?

IITB dean Prakash Gopalan told Economic Times that “participation of IITans in sports and cultural activities has declined signficantly”. He believes that students have developed an addiction to the internet, gaming and surfing which needs to be curbed.

A part of me agrees – and why IIT, even I need to curb my need to go online (am thinking of a ban between 8-11 pm so I can give undivided attention to ‘life’ and especially my daughter 🙂

So if access to everything except basic email is restricted, students will have to venture out and deal with each other. But knowing IITans they will find some way to beat the system. In fact, they will take it up as a challenge!

Secondly, this may achieve the goal of increased real-world social contact (an issue that IITB believes is directly connected to recent suicides on IIT campuses). But even the all-night internet ban (as IIT Delhi recently proposed) may not get students to class at 8 am.

I mean, 15 years ago we had no internet and many of us still did not make it to class at 9 am, especially in the second year. There are many ways to waste one’s time on a campus where you have cool and interesting people. And a dhaba which makes omlettes/ parathas/ Maggi along with killer cutting chai.

So let some of the action shift back to the real world – great. But students will be students. Nothing can really change that!

-Rashmi Bansal

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