Magazine article Newsweek

What Your College Kid Is Really Up to; in the New Devices, a Voter Has No Way of Proving That His or Her Choice Is Reported in the Final Tally

Magazine article Newsweek

What Your College Kid Is Really Up to; in the New Devices, a Voter Has No Way of Proving That His or Her Choice Is Reported in the Final Tally

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Aaron Swartz was nervous when I went to interview him. I know this not because he told me, but because he said so on his student blog a few days afterward. Swartz is one of millions of people who maintain an Internet-based Weblog that allows one to punch in daily experiences as easily as banging out diary entries with a word processor. Swartz says the blog is meant to help him remember his experiences during an important time for him--freshman year at Stanford. But it also opens up a window to the rest of us.

Let me explain. I recently completed "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Tom Wolfe's 676-page novel of contemporary college life, based in part on the author's research tour of several campuses, including Stanford. Critics have nitpicked on some of Wolfe's obvious miscues (pampered student-athletes thumb-twitch on Play-Station 3, which doesn't exist yet). But the larger question is whether Wolfe's status-centered, sex-crazed, subintellectual fictional Dupont University actually bears resemblance to modern campus life.

Well, there's now an excellent way for armchair anthropologists to get an answer to such a question. The candid, impressionistic reports of student bloggers provide an un-filtered picture of what college is really like these days. Take Swartz's blog, which is popular among thousands of readers who know him as a brilliant teenage computer whiz. Swartz shares the confusion and excitement of a shy 18-year-old Chicagoan's immersion into higher education with a maturity that eludes Wolfe's made-up brainy backwoods virgin, Charlotte Simmons. Along with Swartz, we sit through lectures, drop in on beer bashes and obsess helplessly over the ponytailed goddess who sits ahead of him in Sociology. In short, Swartz's genuine account of college life is considerably more nuanced (and less alarming) than Wolfe's fictional one. …

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