The Ugly Side of Productivity
The 60-Year-Old Student
YOUR PROFESSOR IS NOW ONLINE WEB SEMINARS AND THE YALE EXPERIENCE
table of contents
Inside the Artist’s Studio EMILIE FOYER
Cat’s Cradle CAROLINE SYDNEY
The Unofficial Guide to Yale MAYA AVERBUCH
The Perils of Social Automation BRANDON JACKSON
Compress and Expand JUSTINE YAN
A Tale of Two Newspapers MICHELLE HACKMAN
Among the Thangmi THERESA STEINMEYER
MAGAZINE Executive Editor Daniel Bethencourt Managing Editors Madeline Buxton Sarah Maslin Senior Editors Edmund Downie Amelia Urry Associate Editors Elaina Plott Joy Shan Design Editors Ryan Healey Michelle Korte Rebecca Sylvers
Design Staff Jennifer Lu Skyler Ross Photography Editor Sarah Eckinger Jacob Geiger Jennifer Lu Copy Editor Stephanie Heung Editor in Chief Tapley Stephenson Publisher Gabriel Botelho
4 AIR TIME
Small Talk by Caroline Sydney
8 THE HIDDEN SOUNDS OF YALE Small Talk by Austin Campbell
30 THE SECOND-TIME SAYBRUGIAN Profile by Lindsey Uniat
32 YALE’S MAGIC TREE HOUSE Observer by Helen Wang
35 YOUR PROFESSOR IS NOW ONLINE Cover by Clinton Wang
Cover photo by Victor Kang
yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 3
THE FRESHMAN ACROBAT
BY CAROLINE SYDNEY PHOTOS BY PHILIPP ARNDT
here’s a period of time — maybe the first minute — during “Never Say Goodbye,” a piece in the Yale Dancers fall show, when the audience realizes that the duet, performed by Gracie White ’16 and Christian Probst ’16, must have had a different genesis than the pieces that came before. It’s a stretch of gasps, cheers, oohs and ahs. She’s spinning vertically in a full split, she’s falling forward into a plank, then launching herself into a flip over Probst’s shoulder, she’s climbing up his back, then cartwheeling off in slow motion. There’s a pronounced fierceness to her movements, a captivating sort of “who’s that girl” moment that sends you fumbling in the dark for your program to do a name check. And it’s Gracie. A tiny 5-foot-2-inch freshman Yale Dancer with piecey bangs as peppy as her name, Gracie has a high-pitched voice with a tinge of Minnesota that makes her sound excited about whatever she’s saying. She’s not what I expected from the trained circus performer I watched on stage. Gracie ran away to the circus to
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alleviate summer boredom through Circus Juventus, a youth troupe, in St. Paul, Minn. On her first day, she got off the trapeze, already completely hooked. “It’s a feeling that you don’t get in everyday life,” she remembers thinking. “People are so grounded in everyday life, and then I got this incredible opportunity to fly.” She stretches the word a bit, as if letting it take flight itself. “It just made me so happy in a way that I hadn’t felt before.” She dove (or cartwheeled) into a world of silks, hoops, trapeze, hand-to-hand partner work and teeterboard (a sort of seesaw used to launch performers into the air one at a time). By the time she reached high school, she was spending 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day under the big top. To accommodate her schedule, Gracie got her homework assignments early on Fridays and completed all her work for the coming week over the weekend. By her senior year, Gracie had decided she wanted to go professional. She began the highly competitive audition process for the National Circus School in Canada,
training ground for contemporary circus performers destined for avantgarde troupes. She made it through the physical rounds, but not the acting portion, a skill undeveloped through her circus training. Gracie re-evaluated. Maybe it wasn’t the best career path for her. She considered the consequences of the daily strain on her body, the risk of loosing everything with one injury. “I had a brain, I did well in school,” she thought at the time. “Maybe I should put that to use instead of going after this very fun, but also difficult and limited, career.” Then a happy solution presented itself. The director of Company XIV, an experimental New York City dance company, asked Gracie to spend a gap year with the company after working with her at Circus Juventus. Gracie jumped at the chance to play the eponymous heroine in their production of “Snow White,” and to add a new acrobatic element to their existing mélange of dance techniques. The perfect compromise, the role offered her the opportunity to perform
small talk professionally for a short period of time before coming to Yale and gave her the artistic freedom to choreograph her own routines. Dancing alongside Julliard-trained ballerinas like principal dancer Laura Careless, White developed her dance technique working on a foundation of the skills she’d learned in circus. Careless recognized White’s technical disadvantages, but marveled at her willingness to push herself to explore the unfamiliar art. White had a “level of comfort with the body and [was] very available to try anything,” Careless said. “There’s just a level of fear that’s not present.” A circus performance community did not exist at Yale when White arrived. She remembered feeling at a loss without a big top at her disposal, thinking, “How can I still move my muscles in a way that I find enjoyable?” Eventually, she realized that the next best thing to silks and trapeze was already at her fingertips. “It’s definitely dance. It’s noncompetitive, it’s creative, you can just feel your body,” she says, extending her arms a little and rotating her wrists, a reminder of her delicate but powerful muscles. In both circus and dance, intimacy with one’s own body is important. “What you do is so based on the inner workings of little tiny muscles that most people don’t know exist,” Gracie says. So she auditioned for Yale Dancers, hopeful, but aware of her technical shortcomings. She remembers feeling lost through the audition process and wonders how she made it through. Even after a semester, she still feels a little out of sync. “They’re all incredible, incredible dancers with amazing technique, and I’m still doing the ballet warm-ups [thinking], ‘Where is my foot supposed to go, I have no idea,’” she says, syncopating her words with random hand movements to imitate her misguided footwork. Gracie knew that her contribution to the company would be of a different vein, so she proposed a freshman duet,
asking Probst to be her partner. He agreed, not entirely aware of the nature of the project he had committed to. On their first day of rehearsal, White began by showing him videos of the circus routines she wanted to use as inspiration. Stunned, Probst remembers telling her, “Gracie, you have the wrong person.” Even in his retelling, he comes off as assertive and scared. “You picked the wrong person; I’ve never done this before. This looks ridiculous and crazy. I’m not going to be able to do this.” White proved to be even more stubborn than he. She refused to accept his refusal, promising to guide him through the new techniques. They rehearsed for four hours every week starting the second week of school, building up a strong friendship alongside an intensely athletic dance composition. Aside from a spotter, no one had seen “Never Say Goodbye” until the group’s dress rehearsal. YD CoPresident Scott Simpson ’13 was taken aback. “I saw a confidence in her that I hadn’t seen before in rehearsals,” he remembered, in hindsight surprised by his surprise. “She was in her element, she was in control of the choreography, she was in control of her body.” This confidence and power caught the eye of Charlie Polinger ’13, director of “Abyss,” a composite theater and dance piece conceived, as he describes it, as a fantastical epic journey through surreal worlds. Polinger was impressed with Gracie’s ability to create compelling images through movement. He recruited her for the production, casting her in a lead role as well as employing her talents in both choreography and art direction. Circus adds an exciting but unanticipated element to “Abyss.” “It’s a poetic, abstracted version of real life,” Polinger says. “It allows you to do pretty much anything in a heightened way, and it’s visceral, and it’s powerful to watch.” As much as White has welcomed the
experience to place circus in a range of new contexts, she longs to fly again. At last, Yale Risk Management has approved her proposal to include aerial silks and a lyra (a dangling aerial hoop) in “Abyss.” For her part, Gracie has never doubted her own safety. “The ground is what can hurt you,” she says. “The air can’t.”
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INSIDE THE ARTIST’S STUDIO BY EMILIE FOYER
THE HIDDEN SOUNDS OF YALE BY AUSTIN CAMPBELL PHOTOS BY JOYCE XI
he Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments makes no effort to hide itself, but somehow ends up hidden all the same. Despite passing by it countless times on their way up Science Hill, most students never seem to notice the red stone building just north of Mason Lab, even with its façade of ornamental Greek columns and intricate Celtic whorls. In a way, this neglect is understandable, as the Collection hosts no classes or faculty offices and 8 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
maintains only slim public visiting is well-versed in the purpose behind hours, all of them on weekday and each one. “We focus on the design, Sunday afternoons. Within its galleries, construction, history and acoustics however, the Collection holds of musical instruments,” she explains, something extraordinary for those “especially in the context of period willing to pause and take notice of a performance.” Period performance, at repository of sound. the center of the Collection’s purpose, Once inside, visitors will find the refers to studying the performance of Collection’s curator, Susan Thompson, music in light of its historical context. perfecting the features of the East Such research brings about ambitious Gallery’s glass-cased violins. With years questions — What was it like to hear of experience curating the Collection’s Handel’s “Messiah” in 1742? How bright most prominent exhibits, Thompson were the strings? How smooth were the
small talk flutes? — but Thompson and her fellow curator Nicholas Renouf are intent on answering them. For Ian Petruzzi, an intern at the Collection, these endeavors allow for a more complete understanding of music today. “We’re finally getting over the early 20th century, mid-2oth century style of playing everything the same,” says Petruzzi, who graduated from the Yale School of Music last spring. The motivation behind period performance, he explains, is “to really get into what the music is trying to say from its point of view, and not from the perspective you’re putting on it.” Essential to this understanding of what music is trying to say is an understanding of the instruments through which it first spoke. “These instruments have many stories to tell,” says Renouf in the Collection’s audio tour. “Stories about who made them, who played them, how they were made … and finally, and most directly, how they sounded.” In Petruzzi’s view, the most interesting stories lie in the historical interaction between composers and instrumentmakers. Changing musical tastes, he explains, drive instrument-makers to create instruments suited to composers’ current visions and styles. At the same time, great innovations in instrument construction, such as the invention of the piano at the turn of the 18th century, allow the instruments themselves to shape new styles of composition. In this way, the parallel crafts of musical composition and instrument-making have influenced each other throughout history, becoming so intertwined that it is impossible to understand one without the other. The process of learning the instruments’ stories can take several different forms. The instruments can be physically studied: measured, disassembled, and examined. Students and faculty from the Yale School of Music, as well as professional replicamakers, often visit the Collection for this purpose. To the expert eye, even
BUILDING THE TANK I love them because I am good at them. I thought of no rooms. In every stage of building, as I laid down lines of glue, as I clamped the light, as I poured gray pebbles, I saw life for them like detectives unburdened from the duties of going from room to room. To be good at them means that, one day, my shadow, that difficult marvel, will pass through water, where there is no light, and come to be a delectation, rippling into the fish that are like wounds, feeding them closed, and bringing quiet. - Max Ritvo
the subtlest detail, a wood finish or a reinforced corner, can speak volumes about the sound inside. The most vivid stories, however, emerge once the instruments are played. But the practice of restoring old instruments to this playing condition has a checkered, and sometimes tragic, history. Many early restorers, too eager to hear their antique instruments’ stories, inadvertently damaged them beyond repair with drastic changes or sloppy repairs. “When I came [to work at the Collection], I think we were in shock looking at what had happened in the first 50 years of the 20th century,” recalls Renouf, a note of sadness sounding in his voice. “Many, many instruments were, if not destroyed, at least very sadly compromised by well-intentioned restoration.” Petruzzi gives the example of an all-wood French harpsichord from 1688. The original restorer put in a metal soundboard and increased the string tension, which began warping the case, requiring the installation of supporting braces. “It just eventually ended up ruining the instrument,” he explains. “It makes a nice display still … but as far as its original intent, as an instrument to be performed upon, it’s,” he pauses, searching for the right way to express the loss, “been killed.” Nowadays, restorers limit themselves to work that does not damage the instrument. Even then, the utmost care is taken to preserve the original structure and mechanism. When an
instrument is successfully restored, however, the rewards are worth the painstaking work. “To be able to sit in a concert and listen to a Couperin suite on a French harpsichord of the time period that he was writing in is really, really wonderful,” says Petruzzi, his excitement clearly visible. “You can hear why he wrote certain things, and the music just takes on a completely different life.” For Petruzzi, these types of experiences are what make the Collection and its work most fulfilling. On a Sunday afternoon, an ensemble gives a concert in the Collection’s upstairs gallery, using replica instruments modeled after surviving antiques like those that surround them. Curators Renouf and Thompson, dressed in their evening wear, beam as they quietly converse with attendees in the downstairs galleries, the music of the past wafting down from above. Maintaining the Collection is not easy or glamorous, but the value of such work is undeniable. Within the instruments’ struts and soundboards lie the tones of centuries ago, waiting in silence to be released. But while the musical scores of old symphonies and operas are easily copied through the years, they are nothing more than blueprints. The instruments themselves, unique and irreplaceable, are the stones and mortar from which the Collection, and the music, are built.
yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 9
CAT’S CRADLE MICHAEL FRAME ON LIFE WITH SEVEN FELINES BY CAROLINE
SYDNEY ILLUSTRATIONS BY MICHAEL FRAME
ithin seven minutes of stepping in the door of adjunct professor of mathematics Michael Frame’s house, I’ve met just as many cats. They differ in size, temperament and appearance but share the same history, starting as strays nosing through the backyard and ending here, much-loved and well-fed in their cozy home with its book-lined walls. The first to make this journey was a cat named Scruffy, a stray who waited on the back porch for Frame’s wife, Jean Maatta, to come home from work. One day, having taken the cat to get vaccinated, Maatta called Frame in tears with the news that Scruffy had been diagnosed with feline leukemia. Extremely contagious, the incurable disease would spread through the stray community if Scruffy were released. Besides, the life expectancy of an infected cat was not promising. Euthanasia was the only apparent option. As Frame walked to the vet’s office to keep his wife company, he suddenly realized that Scruffy could move into their basement. Frame would gladly live on antihistamines if it meant that Scruffy could live, too. 10 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
As he tells this story, Frame flails his arms and legs in his office chair to mimic his bursting arrival into the vet’s office. His wife, confused and relieved, asked him, “What about your allergies?” He responded, “Fuck my allergies! I don’t care, we’re not going to kill a good cat because of something stupid like allergies.” So Scruffy came home. Though he was expected to live only six months, Scruffy kept them company for almost six years, eventually moving out of the basement as Frame realized his allergies were subsiding. “The lesson I take from that,” Frame says, “is that love can’t cure leukemia, but it can slow it down.” A series of similar stories followed Scruffy’s example: there’s Chessy, all black with a penchant for radiators; Fuzzy, named for obvious reasons; Dinky, who at 22 pounds is anything but; the fiercely affectionate Bopper; Leo, who once sported a leonine mane; Crumples, with his battle-torn ear; and a skittish grey cat named Dusty. Involvement with the Greater New Haven Cat Project, a nonprofit that works to trap and neuter strays in the city, helped to facilitate many of these adoptions, and Frame and Maatta remain supporters of the organization.
But the support goes both ways. Now, as Frame contemplates his cancer and Alzheimer’s diagnoses, the cats are a source of comfort and empathy to him. This relationship is easy to observe as Frame sits with Bopper in his lap, smiling as the tabby energetically nuzzles into his grey beard and purrs. “There is a spark of familiarity that millions of years of evolution does not separate,” Frame says. “There are similar things about the way we feel, the way we think. I don’t chase mice, they don’t do math — that I know of — but there are still some similarities.” A lively curiosity is among these shared attributes. On otherwise discouraging days, Frame find pleasure in observing their varied antics. One night, Frame felt a soft plop land on his head. And then another, and another. He looked up to find Chessy’s black paws pushing the socks in need of mending0 stored on his bookshelf headboard one by one onto his head. This game only played out once, but for Frame that’s the beauty of it. As a professor specializing in chaos theory, cats, he says, are an “important source of randomness in our lives.”
S B O J R O F S E I L P P A YALE BY YUVAL
yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 11
THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO YALE BY MAYA AVERBUCH ILLUSTRATION BY TAO TAO HOLMES
t all begins with information and it not getting where it needs to go,” Casey Watts ’12 says, as he peers at me over the lid of his open computer. To Watts — a lanky, partly pink-haired Yale graduate — “information” means everything from how to double-swipe for lunch to where to find the cheapest alcohol in New Haven. In short, he means everything on YaleWiki, a site whose slogan is “The Unofficial Guide to Yale.” In the fall of 2011, Watts, a current sousaphonist and former clarinetist in the Yale Precision Marching Band, compiled useful information that band members had emailed to freshmen in previous years. He posted all of it in a public Google Doc entitled “So Many Useful Things about Yale,” and later, with perhaps a little more zeal, “EverythingUseful.” Over the following winter break, Watts, an assistant manager of the Student Technology Collaborative (STC), shifted the information to different types of wikis, but struggled to find a customizable, ad-free format. Only in February 2012, when Leandro Leviste ’15, an EverythingUseful user, contacted him about working together, did he start to create an expansive, multipage reference tool. “Collaboration is huge in my book,” Watts says. “I’m a fierce advocate, but I can’t write a whole wiki.” Adam Bray ’07, an STC assistant manager who had already planned to start a Yale wiki after coming across Columbia University’s wiki, helped set up the software and restrict editing rights to Yale students. Other friends jumped in along the way. Project members often met in Watts’ suite for hours to brainstorm, resulting in a site that 12 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
includes both practical information, like the hours of local coffee shops — clearly displayed in a downloadable Google map — and a smattering of random facts, such as the history of infamous squirrel conduct in Yale dorms. “When we had free time, we just wrote and wrote and wrote,” Leviste says. The organizers also sent out questionnaires to freshman counselors and graduating seniors in which they asked questions such as, “what are the most common mistakes you see freshmen make?” and “what is your advice for living with roommates?” Though most of the articles are purely informational, a freshman counselor t o n e pervades some of the more advicebased ones. “Making the Most of Yale,” by Taneja Young ’12, which several of the staff members noted is one of YaleWiki’s best pages, contains saccharine lines like, “You will feel most alive if you chase your dream.” But it also balances
small talk them with humorous snark: “If your dream is to be a princess or a dictator, you may have a difficult time actualizing this reality and therefore become disillusioned.” Watts and others insist that the bulk of the wiki’s content is not directed only at freshmen, but Leviste is a major proponent of an offshoot project: a freshman handbook. “[The wiki] is like a tree with all these branches and all these articles all over the place, but the handbook would be even more centralized,” he says. With the help of the Freshman Class Council and others, Leviste has already drafted 20 pages of the handbook, which he hopes to distribute to the incoming freshman class. Leviste’s plan raises questions about the appropriate content of any unofficial college guide. “Yale doesn’t appreciate having its name associated with anything it hasn’t approved,” Watts says. The site’s inclusion of Directed Studies’ colloquial name, “Directed Suicide,” or one user’s mention of “horror stories of people trusting their academic futures with spotty advice from [freshman counselors]” will probably be left out of the handbook, to avoid bewildering new students. The publicization of Yale’s secrets or students’ blunt talk might raise administrators’ red flags. While this might be the case, the site’s creators have no way of knowing who
is actually looking at the wiki. YaleWiki has more than 20,000 views, but that’s not an indicator of exactly how many people have seen it, and who they are. It’s clear that individuals from other schools have caught on, at least according to Davis Nguyen ’15, one of the YaleWiki staffers and the vice president of communications for the Ivy Council, a student collective. Nguyen advocated for YaleWiki last November during the Ivy Leadership Summit at Dartmouth. Since then, student government representatives from Harvard, Princeton and Brown have contacted him and other YaleWiki members with questions about the setup and security of college wikis. Back at Yale, the wiki staffers say they rely on students to alter the advice sections of the site to better reflect the consensus and expand existing stubs. Though there are many detailed pages, like “Computer Stuff Yale Pays For” and “Late-Night Food,” many others listed on the home page are woefully incomplete. The section called “How to have a great date” on the “Dating and Sexual Culture” page only has the bolded headers: “How to ask a girl on a date (for guys),” “Girl likes pie,” “Guy likes guy” and “Girl likes hurl.” After the initial flurry of activity last spring, the staffers seem to have lost some momentum, though they still update the pages on occasion. Whether the site will fall into disuse or become the next Yale internet fad is unknown. However, the creators of the site have not stopped dreaming about sharing information in better ways. Watts’ latest projects include creating an app that allows multiple people to take notes on a PowerPoint at
PARABLE 1 La noche siempre caerá sin que te des cuenta Listen: The day will end and I will bear witness. I make you sit beside me by the window to memorize my subject, isolating the sky from the cypress and the street lights that threaten the ceramic-urn blue’s illusion of uniformity, and then it is mine. You explain that my experiment is not worth its weight in the mosquitoes I have now invited to bite our skin by leaving the window open. I am young, and my body gives itself easily to my science. But the window is my father’s, and he closes it behind me, framing the new tropes: fog, darkness, a grid showing the modes of passing time. It is because of you, father, that night, too fragile for my studies, will always strike silently, outside of time, the way darkness is let loose inside the warrior when he discovers his mortal wound. - Pedro Rolón
once, and a wiki for the studentrun HAVEN Free Clinic. And as for the future of the Wiki? Watts says he has shared most of the information he originally wanted to, and that now it’s up to viewers to step in and add their knowledge. Erin Michet ’13, another staffer, likened YaleWiki to a palimpsest, a manuscript that is scraped off and written on again. The site, she says, will always reflect the Yale community: “A wiki is an amorphous thing, and if this stays around long enough, it’s going to change and it’s going to take on different forms.”
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The Perils of Social Automation INSERT TITLE HERE
Brandon Jackson AUTHOR’S NAME HERE
Brandon Jackson ILLUSTRATOR’S NAME HERE
y first invitation to participate in an automated social life appeared in my inbox on September 12th, 2012. “Hey Brandon — want to grab a meal?” it began. “To making scheduling easier, you can check out my free times on Google Calendar at https://www.google.com/calendar/ selfsched?sstoken=UUt0VWcybC14d ktHfGRlZmF1bHR8.” I started to get a sinking feeling. “Just click on the time, put in your favorite dining hall, and click ‘Save.’ It will go right into my calendar and yours too. Best, Paul.” I reread it, searching for any traces of personalization, any signs of humanity. Nothing. The message must have been generated by some system. Still, Paul was a classmate I wanted to get to know better, so I clicked the link. A visual representation of Paul’s social life filled the screen, with a familiar interface: a weekly Google
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Calendar. Integrating my request into the system, the machine promptly notified me: “There are no appointment slots available until October 3rd, 2012.” Paul was booked solid for the next three weeks. I scrolled ahead to find a few slender gray boxes, each of which represented an hour of Paul’s free time. I selected one labeled “Lunch,” typed in “Berkeley,” and clicked “Save.” A dark grin swept across my face as I realized I had just glimpsed the future of human interaction. I imagined a world without the back and forth of text messages, and without the hassle of typing appointments into calendars. Sure, I felt objectified and a bit violated. But what the system lacked in human interaction, it made up for in efficiency. And Yale has taught me that for most people, that’s what matters. Yes, I thought. Paul is onto something.
aul invited dozens of friends and acquaintances to arrange meals with him using the Google Calendar Appointment Slots app. He used a variety of email templates to ensure an appropriate tone for each recipient. One of his friends, David Lilienfeld ’15, found the experience revolting. “I hated it,” he recalls. “Setting up a lunch date with Paul felt like going to University Career Services.” Paul grew concerned when many recipients ignored his invitation. To tackle the problem, he decided to employ a more intelligent tool: a human being. He used a web service called Fancy Hands to quickly hire a temporary personal assistant to set up the lunch appointments for him. Paul gave the assistant a list of five people to contact and simple instructions: “These people haven’t replied, please direct them to my Google Calendar.” Three ignored the
crit assistant’s call, one was upset, and one threw the system for a loop. The aide began, “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of Paul, I wanted to follow up on scheduling a lunch date?” “Oh, that’s fine, but I don’t schedule my lunches either,” the friend said calmly. “You’ll have to contact my assistant.” Paul’s assistant chirped, “Oh, ok. I’m looking at your file and it doesn’t look like I have their contact information. May I have their phone number?” “Paul should already have it.” The friend hung up and immediately called Paul. “Hey, someone claiming to be your ‘assistant’ just called me,” he said, laughing. “Oh, great,” Paul replied. “Did you get things set up?” The friend was shocked. He had thought the whole thing was a joke. “Why didn’t you just text me?” he finally asked.
FRIEND’S NAME HERE
, how about lunch?
ntil recently, my lunchtime social life was suboptimal. On a typical day, I would get hungry at around 11:00, remember I had forgotten to make plans, text a friend, wait 15 minutes for a reply, try someone else, and before I knew it, I’d be sitting alone in a dining hall, eating as fast as possible. I often dreamt of building a system that could help me organize my social life. I imagined a tool that would keep track of everyone I hung out with and remind me to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. My ideal social automaton could do more than track my interactions. It could also simulate spontaneity by
secretly making plans with friends and surprising me with a text message a few minutes in advance. As my lunch date with Paul approached, I wondered if his system would hold the key to optimizing my own social life. The morning of our appointment, Paul’s system sent me a reminder. I got to Berkeley early, and joined the others waiting for their friends beneath the
college’s taxidermied antelopes. As my peers stared at their screens, I scanned the courtyard for the archetypal busy person: a slim figure, walking quickly, typing furiously on an iPhone. But when I finally spotted Paul, he walked at a normal pace, surveying his surroundings with a calm smile. When we sat down, I was struck by his perfect posture. He listened attentively. He never checked his
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crit phone. I looked neurotic by comparison. The more lunches I had with Paul, the more I realized that his social calendar was one small part of an elaborate system of apps and devices. In the middle of one November lunch date, Paul said, “Wait! You have to see my newest device!” He whipped out his iPhone. On the screen was a stick figure, sitting down on a chair. “Watch this,” he instructed. Paul leaned forward. So did the stick figure. Paul leaned back. So did the stick figure. “The app is connected to a sensor on my back that monitors my posture,” he said, beaming. When he slouches, the sensor vibrates. “The first few times it vibrated I thought my back was getting emails,” he laughed. Now he sits up straight automatically. Paul keeps records on everything: daily stress levels, the weather, sleep duration, happiness, caffeine consumption, time on Facebook, distances traveled, and the amount of time spent hanging out with each of his friends. He once tried tracking what he ate, but he couldn’t get into it, he says. “People thought it was weird that I was taking pictures with my phone,” he recalls. Paul’s newest idea is to record the electromagnetic signals emanating from his brain using an inexpensive EEG sensor. “I would love to use the data to keep track of my optimal working times,” he says. Paul’s ultimate dataset is his calendar. His time is booked solid for at least two weeks into the future and four years into the past, although Paul informed me that, regrettably, there are a few hourlong gaps during a brief period in 2010. He uses the calendar as both a planner and a memory bank. “I feel much more free with these systems in place,” he says, without a hint of irony. Paul’s obsession with organization is not borne out of a desire to be as busy as possible. Rather, he insists, he is deeply aware of his limitations. “I have learned to identify what it is that my human brain is good at,” he says. “And then I try to outsource everything else to technology.” After all, human 16 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
decision-making is a messy process that is influenced by millions of factors. Paul hopes that with enough data he will be able to better “understand behavior at a global level,” he says, including why he does irrational or meaningless things. “We all spend more time than we realize doing things that we don’t actually value,” Paul says. That is what motivated him to implement the appointment slot system in the first place. “I was wasting time replying to emails … time that I could have been spending with people,” he says. By keeping detailed to-do lists and budgeting time for both work and play, Paul accomplishes more of his personal goals — like getting to know people better — and still manages to get an average of 7.80155 hours of sleep per night. “I think it is the best system,” he says. “I don’t miss anything. Ever.”
to implement Paul’s system of social automation. I put on my favorite electronic music, made a list of 30 friends I wanted to see more often, and created daily “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Tea” and “Unstructured free time” appointment slots. Suddenly it hit me: automating things is fun. It’s the satisfaction you feel after cleaning your room, plus the excitement of knowing that next time around you will have a robot to help you do it. I copied and pasted a slightly modified version of Paul’s message as fast as possible, getting more excited every time I hit “Send.” And then I started to freak out. On the fifth or sixth email, I realized I had accidentally forgotten to change the name of the person the letter was addressed to. And then I spotted a typo.
hen I first signed up for a lunch date with Paul, the thought of being crammed into his busy schedule made me uncomfortable. But by our third lunch, I had come to admire his attitude. Paul carefully considers what he values and then he pursues it. Instead of giving up hope when unrealized goals accumulate on his todo list, Paul builds machines to help him stay on track. The potential I saw in these systems to strengthen my reallife friendships began to overshadow my initial discomfort. One night, I impulsively decided
5.25 7.25 .5
An Average 24 Hours with Paul 1.75 7.75
Eating & Leisure
Keeping a calendar at Yale
46 67 Electronic Calendars + Others
Paper + Memory
crit And then I reread the email and panicked that my friends would think I’m an obnoxious tool who sends impersonal mass emails in order to fill his schedule. I needed to find a way to convince my friends that I actually wanted to spend time with them, so I decided to write one personalized sentence per message. This took a lot longer than I anticipated. I found myself longing for the simple days, when a text with the words “lunch tmrw?” was enough to make my friends feel valued. The entire process took under an hour. By sunrise, I had plans for every meal for the next week. (To my disappointment, no one signed up for an Unstructured Free Time slot.) Even though I knew my social life was soon to be vibrant, going out in public the next morning was nervewracking. I prayed that I wouldn’t run into the people who had ignored my email, since they clearly didn’t want to spend time with me. Or they thought I was a manipulative automaton. Or both. When I saw one of the recipients in a hallway, I pivoted and ran away. There were many people who didn’t take too kindly to becoming part of the machine of my social life. As I returned to Calhoun, a friend yelled my name across Cross Campus to confront me. “It’s just so sad,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “So sad. It’s like you can’t handle the chaotic-ness of a real relationship, and you have to reduce everyone to a one-sentence personalization.” Another friend refused to sign up for a slot and told me to be on the lookout for a carrier pigeon with her response. At 6:00 p.m. that night, my automated social life began. Unfortunately, my first appointment stumbled into the dining hall thirty-five minutes late. And then the next day, my tea appointment arrived fifty minutes late. Just like that, I descended into disillusionment.
ow’s the system going?” Paul asked me via email. When I called to vent, he didn’t seem surprised by my friends’
reactions. He ran into trouble of his own not too long ago when he invited others into his calendared world. The appointment slots made people think that he didn’t have time for them. He recalls, “sometimes people would say, ‘Wow, Paul, you’re really busy … you only have an hour for me?’ Which of course is not true.” At the end of last semester, Paul solicited feedback on his appointment slots system from his users. “People just really didn’t like it, as great as it was,” he admits. “Everyone said, ‘Let’s just email.’” He eventually decided to abandon the system.
o what is it about social automation that so many people — including myself — find unsettling? My first hypothesis was the lack of human interaction. Many of my friends complained that the scheduling email felt impersonal, even with my personalized sentences. Paul agrees. Recipients of automated emails “treat you like you’re a different person,” he says. “It’s as though you exist as a person when you send a text, but if you send an email, you’re a robot or something.” According to Paul, herein lies “the duality of the system”: the appointment slots system makes us feel like we’re interacting with a machine, even though we’re using it to organize real-life friendships. But when I thought about it more, I realized that the real reason the Google Appointment Slots interface feels so viscerally negative has more to do with our own minds than with machines. Let’s face it. We don’t like to admit we have limitations, and so far technology has done a magnificent job of indulging us. Google Calendar lets us keep track of thousands of events and Facebook, thousands of people — far more than we could possibly manage (or even remember) on our own without the technology. No computer interface would dare tell us we’re trying to do too much. Without any negative feedback from our devices, we applaud each other’s packed schedules while growing increasingly anxious about our own.
But the appointment system is different, because it directly corresponds to real-life in a way that many online technologies don’t. There are a finite number of available time slots which each reflect an hour of time spent with an actual person. We can’t trick ourselves into thinking we can do everything because there are simply not enough time slots available. The calendar interface transports the user to a realm where everyone is cramming in as much as possible, where time is a scarce resource, where we have to make choices about whom we spend time with. We don’t like the system because, for better or for worse, it forces us to acknowledge our limitations. Some say the appointment slots system turns men into machines. I think it reminds us that we’re human. By using technology to make his social life as efficient as possible, Paul has accepted his human limitations. His usage of a simple machine to efficiently schedule social interactions evoked deep feelings of anxiety among his friends, including me. Yet at the same time, his system enabled me to quickly plan over a dozen wonderful meals and tea dates with my friends that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Before we can judge the way Paul uses technology to optimize his schedule, we need to examine the way we spend our own time. While he is perfecting his todo lists and spending pre-scheduled time relaxing with his friends, the rest of us are wasting precious hours interacting with machines. True, these machines resemble humans and provide a steady stream of positive feedback. But they ultimately deny us the satisfaction of genuine human interaction. Why don’t we have such negative reactions to these systems? At first I thought Paul was the crazy one. But now I’m not so sure.
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COMPRESS AND E X PA N D A WEEK WITHIN THE ARCHITECTURE MAJOR BY JUSTINE YAN PHOTOS BY KAMARIA GREENFIELD
rchitects talk about compression and expansion. It is one of architecture’s fundamental techniques, and it has become a trope. The meaning is vague, but understood by all. Compression and expansion is the experience of moving through small, narrow spaces and grand, open spaces — a long, dark tunnel suddenly gives way to a high-ceilinged auditorium. A carefully choreographed sequence of scales can produce complex and delightful effects in any psyche. The terms are borrowed from physics — gases change properties when expanded or compressed. You need both compression and expansion to reach equilibrium. This makes sense to me. 18 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
hen I started the architecture major, I was intrigued by everything — the Eero Saarinen chairs in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, the roar of the fabrication lab machines in the subbasement, and all the beautiful strangers taking elevators up and down with their hands shoved into their pockets, chins tucked into scarves. I wanted to be in on the exhilarating fatigue, whatever compelled architects to move with blank-eyed determination. I’d take the elevator up to the fourth floor and look out the huge windows to see, in the rain, buildings softly sagging into themselves, and I spent
a semester daydreaming about myself softly sagging. I thought I had figured it out. Part of being an architecture student was to appear as mysterious, as busy, as possible. And so, for a couple months, I did not get over the wonder of it. I developed habits. I stormed up and down the stairs, stayed up very late, drank coffee, kept myself busy.
ompression happens every week. It’s a Tuesday night, and we’re preparing for the big review on Wednesday afternoon. By 2 a.m., we are dozing off at our desks and super gluing our fingers together. At around 3, the urgency sets in. People start talking about making Gourmet Heaven runs at 4. The sun rises; we
personal essay panic. Some of us go home for a quick shower. The rest of us work right up to the 1:30 p.m. mark. Then, suddenly, it is all done, or as done as it will ever be. We pin up our drawings, gingerly display our models — the spray paint still drying. By then we don’t all manage to put on heels or a nice dress shirt. We present to critics and instructors as we are, hair tousled, teeth unbrushed. An architectural review feels like a dress rehearsal, both informal and urgent. Presentations begin, and the rest of us are partially attentive. Mostly, we fall asleep, gulp coffee, go buy soup. You can never predict who will get a good or bad review. The projects you jealously ogled, by the people who finished early, may get torn apart. The tentative, last-minute projects may be generously complimented. But we always hope for some passionate discussion, something dramatic. The worst is when the critics have nothing to say. A strong concept — some musical inspiration, some literary metaphor — can make a project successful. But design studio is really about following through. You also have to make things. Unforeseen problems always emerge. No one teaches you how to glue Plexiglas together without getting your fingerprints all over it. No one guides you through casting a model out of plaster. In each assignment, we are encouraged to experiment and are constantly reminded to be conscious of every decision, to be able to defend each move with an abundance of reasons. Everything should be deliberate. The wall is here because —
the staircase is spiraled because — the window is translucent because — We learn it is better to have an opinion, even an unreasonable, extreme opinion, than to have no opinion at all. We are told to hone our judgment, be concise with our words, let our drawings and models speak for us. Everything we produce should have the confidence of a manifesto. But we’re not architects yet. You can see right through us — we’re still too eager to impress. At this point, we still aren’t sure what talent is, or how we would recognize it in ourselves or in our classmates. One negative comment can send us backtracking. Any compliment could make us glow for hours. We don’t quite know yet how to take a stand and hold it. So we don’t have time to be anything but architecture majors. If you haven’t been in studio the day before an assignment is due, the second you walk in, all eyes are on you. “Where have you been?” they ask. What else could you have possibly been doing? And if you say, “I was at this party,” or “I was at this rehearsal,” there’s a lot of: “Oh did you have fun?” and “Oh, I’ve been here all day.” I always feel a mix of guilt and giddiness when I leave studio “early.” A lot of times, I’ll announce that I’m leaving, and then I’ll linger for another half-hour, making a few more edits on the computer, touching up my models, as if waiting for everyone to say, “I’m happy for you! Go!” If we are people who have never built anything, can we call ourselves architects? We have plenty of role models for reference. The Yale School of
Then, suddenly, it is all done, or as done as it will ever be. We pin up our drawings, gingerly display our models — the spray paint still drying.
Architecture’s gravitational pull is strong, and many accomplished architects orbit around it, each a planet of his or her own. According to one of my instructors, Zaha Hadid is a real diva, strutting into reviews and special occasions like a queen, often accompanied by a few grad students at her beck and call. Peter Eisenman is obsessed with hockey, and Rem Koolhaus is rumored to make last-minute changes to his designs while in the taxi. This is the stuff of architectural mythology. And we admire them even before we understand them. One of the more enigmatic professors of the department, when not happy with a model, is known to lean back in his chair with his legs crossed and yell, “It needs more cocaine!” No one really knows what he means, but the comment haunts us anyway.
ate last September, our class went on a visit to the pleasant little town of New Canaan, Conn., to see two iconic works of mid-century modernism: the Bridge House by John Johansen and the Glass House by Phillip Johnson. The owner of the Bridge House was Jay Gatsby reincarnated. As we wandered the pristine house, we were so conscious of its value. Men in suits and sunglasses walked through the rooms, turning on all the lights for us. Gatsby greeted us on the driveway in aviator sunglasses, a navy blue jacket, tight designer jeans and white tennis shoes, his blonde hair swept along a side part. He started describing the significance of the house, but stumbled a bit, admitting that he’d been reading some kind of architectural history book — and it was just amazing. A couple of classmates and I walked away from the house whispering about what a caricature he was — what a character! — breathless with the conclusion that here was a classic example of a man mythologizing himself. You buy a
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personal essay house like this so you can become a part of its history. After lunch, we proceeded onward to the Glass House, which was opened to the public in 2007, soon after the architect’s death. The world-famous house is embedded in a wooded 47-acre estate. This was Johnson’s weekend escape. Our tour guide, who had attended the Yale School of Architecture in the ’90s, fed our overzealous, future-architect appetites with anecdotes about the dazzling house parties and salon-style discussions that Johnson hosted. I imagine the exclusive world of gregarious, neatly groomed grad students, artists, and architects who were invited to these legendary bouts of revelry, the flashy displays of intellect, the healthy dose of alcoholism. These parties will echo into eternity in architecture lore, transmitted from architect to architect by word of mouth. I can’t help but
believe that they all got together for the express purpose of plotting their legacy. How did they want to be remembered? Johnson was an openly gay iconoclast who walked around naked in a glass house. And all the neighbors complained. The dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Robert A. M. Stern, was a frequent Glass House guest. There’s a black-and-white photograph from 1964, and he is the youngest in the picture. Dark-haired and visibly eager, he is attentively leaning into a conversation with Andy Warhol, David Whitney and Philip Johnson. He sits slightly apart from the rest of the group, right on the edge of the frame. Maybe he knew it at the time, or maybe he didn’t, but at this moment, in this scene, he is firmly planted in the history of great architects. I know Dean Stern as the sharptongued and intimidating poltergeist of the architecture building. He has
impeccable taste, wears statement ties with matching pocket squares, and every now and then deigns to stroll in on our undergraduate reviews to make a decisive, sardonic comment. You don’t know when he’ll make an entrance or peer through a window on another floor.
almost wasn’t an architecture major. In the winter of sophomore year, during our first set of design studios, I had architectural nightmares of arriving at my splintery wooden desk late at night and cutting and cutting, but the pieces didn’t fit together. In real life it was cold, and there was a lot of talk. People who dropped the major early seemed happy, told us all the time that they were so relieved. After all, it is possible, even common, to become an architect without majoring in architecture. Alexander Purves, professor of the “Introduction to Architecture” course and a great paternal figure in the department, was an English major while an undergrad at Yale. The rest of us found ways to cope. My friend Alex and I bought a box of carnation seeds, thinking they would grow easily and bring a cheerful burst of color to the building. I started calling them the “Seeds of Hope and Happiness,” perhaps prematurely. One cold night in early spring, we planted them on the seventh-floor balcony. On long nights, we kept going outside to check on them, but nothing happened, and I blamed Alex. In the fall, we checked again, and there was a grand total of five blooms. I was ecstatic.
eing tired has changed my habits. Studio gives me a place to go on Friday nights when I am too tired for parties. I watch TV on my desktop computer, happy, for hours. Classmates trickle in to write papers for other courses, cheerfully lethargic and equipped with sleeping bags and energy drinks.
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personal essay When you feel constantly triumphant and constantly defeated, you start to act brave, you start to be impervious. But are we bored and weary, or does architecture just give us a stock excuse, a cool and generic response? We use it without thinking. In tricky, ambiguous interpersonal situations, I say I’m too busy for this. I leave. Our roommates, friends, and coleaders of things know that we are busy, because we come to dinner with real battle stories. The truth is not that it’s all a front, but that we have grown comfortable crouching behind it. I’m familiar with the soft, slow sag. And then at 5 a.m. the violent jerk of desperation — will I finish? Maybe I’ll give up for a few minutes and lie spread-eagled on the carpet for a while. I still feel safe in the awareness that, whether I’m ready or not, tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., the review will happen, and then I’ll be done. And I’ll have no regrets because it is physically impossible for me to do any more than I am doing now.
xpansion: I have a personal post-review ritual. Minutes after the Wednesday review ends at around 4 p.m., I tear down all my drawings from the walls of the seventh-floor pit, drop my models on top of my desk, and I’m out. Time to shower, change out of sawdust-coated clothing, get the spray paint out of my hair, then eat, then throw myself onto my bed and watch an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” before falling into a deep sleep by 8 p.m., only to wake, disoriented, at 2 or 3 a.m. My roommate gives me a wide berth on these nights. I am recovering. But this also occurs on a larger scale. On Thursday nights, the Yale School of Architecture celebrates. First, at 6:30, we crowd into the basement gallery to get a peek at the week’s featured guest speaker, one of
a long parade of famous architects or trailblazing art historians. We sit there for an hour, trying to cram as much of the lecture into our minds as we can. It’s a glamorous affair — the dramatic spotlighting above, the ubiquitous paprika carpet below. Then we emerge, heading up to the bubbling, alcoholic reception on the second-floor gallery. It’s the highlight of the week for the school and all of its orbiting bodies; it reminds us that we are at the center of something. Undergrads weave in and out of the expensive suits worn by expensive people, and there’s magic in the friction. The gallery resounds with a dull roar, and in each memory that I have of those nights, I’m swaying back and forth holding a glass of white wine, always filled to the brim. We form a small cluster of underdressed undergrads, catching the hors d’oeuvres as they come out, abashedly soliciting refills from the strawberryblonde bartender named Andre. We always say we’re going to break into the grad student party scene or dating scene. We say we’ll introduce
ourselves sometime. But usually we don’t, so we make bored eye contact with them around the building, and talk about them like they are Pokémon that would be cool to collect or befriend. Soon the crowd thins, and I feel like the room is expanding. In December, on the Friday after our final reviews, the seniors hosted “Da Nite B4 Critmas” at an off-campus house. An hour into the party, we were dancing to Ke$ha on a slippery and structurally unsound table with a couple of new grad student friends. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but one guy kept showing me the top of his boxers. And all the while, “Die Young” blasting on repeat. There is so much work left to do. This rhythm, this weekly cycle, is exactly what I’m in love with, exactly what keeps me going. These nights are dense miniature narratives, studies in tying myself up into a thousand knots, and then, when it’s over, allowing them to all come undone.
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A TALE OF TWO NEWSPAPERS O
BY MICHELLE HACKMAN PHOTOS BY CARLY LOVEJOY
ne dreary Friday afternoon in late reporters have cared to venture. But its entire staff in New Haven and now November, Paul Bass received Bass is not the crime beat reporter for runs syndicated material in Hartford. a phone call. The person on New Haven’s 200-year-old flagship daily And the New Haven Register, the city’s the other end was a close confidant of newspaper, the New Haven Register. In one remaining print daily, employs William Outlaw III, an unfortunately fact, he doesn’t work for the Register at about half the journalists it did in the named police suspect who was accused all. 1980s. Bass created the Independent of attempting to run a police officer over Bass is the founder and editor of the to fill a void in quality coverage of the with his car. Outlaw had been in hiding New Haven Independent, a not-for- city that he saw in the wake of these for the greater part of a week, and he profit news website that he created in contractions. was now contemplating turning himself 2005. Since then, the site has attracted “The experience of New Haven in. over 700,000 page views per month suggests that when commercial media “So I met him that Sunday,” Bass said, and won multiple awards for its fail, enterprising journalists will come “and I brought a camera.” reporting. (The New Haven Register has up with ideas to offset at least some of After meeting with Outlaw, Bass about 5 million page views per month, what has been lost,” said Dan Kennedy posted the interview on his website, according to its managing editor, Mark in an email. He is an assistant professor along with an accompanying interview Brackenbury.) of journalism at Northeastern University with Outlaw’s accuser. And when Bass came to New Haven as a Yale and the author of the forthcoming Outlaw turned himself in the next day, student in the late 1970s and has stayed book “The Wired City: Reimagining Bass went along, with his camera. on since his graduation as a journalist. Journalism and Civic Life in the PostThis was by no means the first time Back then, the city was home to two Newspaper Age,” which is largely about Bass received a call of this sort. For the newspapers, an alternative weekly, the New Haven Independent. past seven years, he has established and seven radio newsrooms, by Bass’ “At a time when the advertising model himself as one of the most trusted figures account. All seven of the radio stations that supported news from the 1830s until in New Haven journalism, making are now gone. The alternative weekly, about 2005 is falling apart, the nonprofit inroads with segments of the black and the New Haven Advocate — where Bass model is emerging as a crucial way to Latino communities where few other started his professional career — slashed pay for journalism — especially public22 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
service journalism of the sort that is vital for a self-governing democracy, but that may not attract as many eyeballs as sports or entertainment.” Bass may be talented, but it is unclear how much of his success can be attributed to his own style over the lack of genuine competition. And, perhaps more importantly, it remains to be seen whether Bass’ model — if it proves to be successful in the long term — can truly fill a void left by floundering daily newspapers.
t is difficult to imagine a more perfect foil to the upstart Independent than the New Haven Register, a newspaper whose critics describe it as out of touch with the community it serves. The disconnect is perhaps best symbolized by the Register’s location. The Register building, a converted shirt factory partially surrounded by barbed wire and featuring a large “for sale” sign, lies on the outskirts of town, by Interstate
95. Inside, one end holds a printing nationwide. Twenty years ago, as press that, until March of last year, Harvard Nieman Journalism Lab printed the Register in-house along with Director Joshua Benton notes, many approximately 30 other publications. papers like the Register enjoyed lucrative The Register’s parent company, the monopolies on local print news and Pennsylvania-based Journal Register print advertising. If someone wanted Company (JRC), decided to outsource to get the news in New Haven, then printing to the Hartford Courant’s they had to buy the Register. This in facilities, laying off 105 printing press turn gave the paper a broad readership workers in the process. On the other base, a major draw for local advertisers end, there is a large, iconic newsroom looking to place ads in New Haven with rows and rows of unoccupied print media. As a result, newspaper desks. companies could charge whatever they At the height of its success in the late pleased for ads and newspapers. “The ’80s and early ’90s, the Register employed rates they charged didn’t really make about 120 people in its newsroom, sense on the free market,” Benton said. from journalists to copy editors and Unfortunately for the Register, photographers. That number has since that attitude outlasted its usefulness. dwindled to about 70, according to Throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s, Brackenbury. (Several former Register print revenue started its precipitous reporters declined to be interviewed for decline, fueled by competition from this article.) websites — including its own — that The cuts reflect a major financial were giving away news for free. As crunch at the Register, one that has the company’s main source of revenue afflicted newspapers in midsize cities quickly evaporated, it struggled to yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 23
feature meet debt and pension obligations online. With little costs other than it had accrued at a healthier time. By the reporters needed to produce the February 2009, JRC had filed a Chapter website’s content, Bass could start a 11 bankruptcy proceeding, done under news outlet on a relatively low budget. by the weight of $695 million in debt. And that was how the Independent was The company would emerge from born. bankruptcy half a year later. “There wasn’t enough reporting The Register survived JRC’s financial going on,” Bass said. “No one was going meltdown, but not without serious to the school board, no one was hanging ramifications for its coverage. Staff out in the neighborhood and writing cuts have spread the newspaper thin, about it.” combining several of its beats and So that’s exactly what Bass started slashing others altogether. Since the to do. Each morning, he walks to his Register covers the greater New Haven downtown office from his home in area, fewer reporters are available to Westville — a commute that he says takes focus solely on city government and about 45 minutes each way but that he city agencies in New Haven — meaning considers crucial in keeping tabs on the that more might be slipping through the different neighborhoods on which he cracks of scrutiny. Brackenbury says reports. “Sometimes you come across a only four Register journalists cover New crime scene, or a fire, or an argument or Haven full time; most report on either something like that,” he explained. One suburbs or sports. time, Bass was riding his bike to work (he insists it was too cold to walk), when n 2005, Paul Bass thought he had an irritated woman yelled at him to “get just the idea to create some needed on the fuckin’ sidewalk.” He filmed the competition in the New Haven news incident, looked up the relevant laws market. He had watched all the city’s about where riders could and could not existing news outlets fall prey to what bike and wrote a story about it. “It was he calls “rapacious corporate control,” kind of fun,” he said with a smile. leaving a gap for in-depth, New HavenBass’ morning walk exemplifies the centric reporting. Since there was little attitude of a news outlet that prides itself revenue to be made in the print world, on an intimate understanding of New he decided to start his new venture Haven. Independent reporters attend
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nearly every meeting of the city’s local assembly. They chronicle every turn of its education reform efforts; each year, Bass even embeds one of his writers in one school to report on its progress. And, perhaps most impressively, they follow local figures in the community with impressive focus: emerging rappers, neighborhood leaders and even elusive characters like the anonymous graffiti artist Believe in People. When his latest work appeared on an underground tunnel inside Yale, the Independent had the story before the Yale Daily News. The sort of journalism favored by the Independent — locally focused, with an emphasis on political and social issues — is “not particularly advertiserfriendly,” as Kennedy pointed out. Bass compensates by structuring the Independent as a nonprofit and keeping overhead costs low. Between the rent on their New Haven office and a satellite in Ansonia that publishes the Valley Independent Sentinel — an offshoot of the New Haven Independent that covers several neighboring towns — Bass spends only $8,000 of his $400,000 yearly budget. According to the New Haven Independent’s 2010 tax return, Bass compensates himself a meager $60,000 salary and spends the rest on six staff writers, four of whom are responsible for producing all of the Independent’s content. (The other two run the Sentinel from Ansonia, and for the purpose of this story, can be considered separate from the Independent’s main operation.) Even with these cost-management measures, the long-term financial sustainability of the Independent remains unsettled. Bass is always on the lookout for sources of funding. In the first few years of existence —when Bass’ budget hovered closer to $100,000 — a majority of funds came from journalism grants to which Bass applied. In more recent years, Bass says 75 percent of the budget comes from individual donors from the community whom Bass sought out. As of now, Bass says he has finished fundraising for 2013, which will have a budget of $410,000, and is a third of the
feature way through fundraising for 2014. “Is it a sustainable model? I have no idea,” Bass said. “It’s hard — you’ve got to scrape for the money. But I’m not finding that daily newspapers with corporate backing are doing much better.”
Paton was something of a visionary. Although many leading media thinkers were advocating the migration of news operations onto digital platforms, such as websites, mobile apps and text message alerts, few had actually pushed their companies to do so. In one of his first acts as CEO, Paton issued each hen the JRC emerged from Journal Register reporter a flip camera, bankruptcy proceedings in in the hopes that each article would late 2009, its board of directors be accompanied by a video. Before wanted to carry their company into the Paton’s arrival, the New Haven Register future. In February 2010, they named uploaded articles onto its website only John Paton, a former journalist himself, when they were completed; now, they to lead the company. post stories as they develop, even if that
means posting several paragraphs to start and updating the story throughout the day. “[Our digital presence] has been ratcheted up a hundredfold,” Brackenbury said. By September 2011, Paton had codified his digital-heavy business strategy into its own management company, Digital First Media (DFM), which was created to manage JRC and soon also agreed to manage Media News Group, a newspaper chain that includes larger metro dailies like the Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury. Savings would come in overhead costs like printing presses, not content itself. “Paton just has a radically different approach,” Matt DeRienzo, the JRC’s Connecticut editor and the Register’s de facto top editor, said. “He pounded his fist on the podium and said, ‘No advertiser is going to dictate our content. We can’t cut journalism anymore.’” At first, Paton’s approach seemed to be working. From 2009 to 2011, the Journal Register’s digital revenue increased by 235 percent. Then, a strange thing happened. Less than three years after the Journal Register emerged from bankruptcy proceedings, Paton announced that it was declaring Chapter 11 once more. In a press release announcing the move in September 2012, Paton said that bankruptcy proceedings were necessary considering the company’s continued losses in print revenue. Although digital revenue had improved, Paton said that print revenue, which made up more than half the company’s total income, had shrunk by 19 percent. “It’s pretty damn public, and it’s pretty damn embarrassing,” Paton told The New York Times’ Media Decoder blog several days after the announcement. But, he added, “from a business perspective, it’s the absolute right thing to do.” So far, though, the recent turbulence caused by JRC’s second bankruptcy has not trickled down to its flagship daily in New Haven. The “for sale” sign on the building is not solely one of the
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Still, many in the media industry are skeptical that an open newsroom model represents anything more than a cosmetic reform.
Journal Register’s efforts to rid itself of expensive property; it is also a signal that the newspaper wants to move back downtown and insert itself, literally, into the heart of the city. But DeRienzo wants more than just to change the location — he wants to re-envision the way the Register’s newsroom is constructed altogether. journalism in the Register even if the everywhere.” Before becoming Connecticut editor for Digital First vision is fully implemented, And even today, the Register has a JRC, DeRienzo served as the publisher because the reporting staff is not going greater footprint in the city as a whole. of The Register Citizen, a small daily to get bigger and may in fact continue “It is the closest thing New Haven has to in Torrington, Conn. There, he made to get a little smaller,” Kennedy said. a mass medium,” Kennedy said. “If the waves when, in December 2010, he “Most likely we’ll see a better sense of Register, for instance, were to expose turned his newsroom into a café, inviting connection and conversation with the wrongdoing at City Hall, it would get the citizens of Torrington to view and community, which is important but more attention than if the Independent collaborate on the newspaper’s daily hard to measure.” did the same thing, simply because operations. DeRienzo now imagines a many more people read the Register.” similar open newsroom for the Register. t is tempting to pit the Register and Although each organization points “To have a good relationship with your the Independent against each other as to the other as its main source of readers, you need trust,” he explained. paragons of old and new, to regard the competition, the two have, in recent “And in order to have trust, you need Register as a dying corporate mammoth years, adopted a more collaborative transparency.” only to be replaced with the likes of spirit. “Now, if they have a story that they DeRienzo’s project will have to the fresher, well-intentioned nonprofit. beat us on, or if they step back and they wait until the Register moves back But the true picture is much more think about an issue in an interesting downtown. In the meantime, however, complicated. or a unique way, we absolutely link to the Internet has provided a partial proxy. Kennedy said that, when comparing them,” DeRienzo said. Each morning at 10:30, the newsroom the two, the Independent “clearly” Bass agreed. “It’s nice that we don’t posts a list of stories it is working on does deeper and more comprehensive have to compete for money,” he added. for the day and hosts a live chat room coverage of the city. That is its specialty, “It’s a pure journalistic competition — so for readers to pose questions, voice whereas the Register must spread its we don’t suck up to anybody to get ad criticisms and contribute their own resources across New Haven and about dollars away from each other. It makes ideas. Feedback has brought a new form 20 suburbs. So if the Independent were us both do our jobs better.” of citizen accountability to the Register’s to go under, it would be a bigger loss for The Independent, for its part, seems editorial process. Says DeRienzo, “A the city’s coverage. to have carved out a niche as the common response [to the story list] is, Still, compared with a old-style daily, city’s nonprofit community advocate. ‘This is the wrong list of stories! You’re the limits of that coverage are all too Although the impact of the Register’s not covering what’s important to us.’” evident. As Kennedy pointed out, the changing leadership and new philosophy Still, many in the media industry Independent’s style tends to focus on will not become clear for some time, it are skeptical that an open newsroom breaking news at the expense of in- now has a chance to reinvent its own model represents anything more than depth, investigative reporting. “What niche as the remaining print daily in a cosmetic reform. Bass called the sense of depth the Independent offers New Haven. But will these news models Torrington model a “well-intentioned tends to emerge over time, as the site be the only ones to define New Haven’s experiment,” but said that whenever he returns to certain stories over and over,” — and more broadly, America’s — news logged onto a live chat on The Register he said. Director of the Yale Journalism future? Bass doesn’t think so. Citizen’s website, there were never Initiative Mark Oppenheimer noted “There is always room for more,” he more than two citizens contributing. the Independent’s limits in breadth said matter-of-factly. “I’m sure there’s “The participation rate has not been of coverage. “The Independent has some 25-year-old out there who will put great,” Brackenbury conceded. “We’d been very shrewd about picking a few, us out of business someday.” like a lot more participation, we really momentous issues ... and covering them would.” really, really well,” he said. “But in the “I’m not sure that we’re going to old days, the Register had eyes and ears see dramatically different or better
26 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
AMONG THE THANGMI MARK TURIN CHASES AN UNWRITTEN LANGUAGE
BY THERESA STEINMEYER PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARK TURIN
ark Turin took the bus as far as it would go. When the road stopped, he got off with only a rucksack and set out to find the Thangmi and learn their language. Turin wandered northward, stopping in villages to inquire about the Thangmi, with no luck. It was December 1996; the Nepali Civil War was under way, and Turin could not be sure whether the Thangmi even existed. One day, Turin hiked up a hill deep in the mountains. He stumbled upon a toothless old man, sitting beneath a tree with his chickens. Exhausted, Turin asked him for a cup of tea, promising to explain his wanderings after he had
a moment to rest. He told the old man in Nepali that he was searching for the Thangmi, and asked if the man knew where he could find them. The man smiled. “I am Thangmi,” he said. The man was Rana Bahadur, the Thangmi’s village shaman and a member of one of the village’s poorest families. He invited Turin home with him, and introduced Turin to the village where he would spend most of the next decade.
anguage had always played a large role in Turin’s life. As a child in London, Turin was introduced to the languages of his Italian father and Dutch mother. He rarely traveled
in England; instead, his family spent holidays in Holland and Italy. In a multilingual childhood such as his, Turin says that “it’s almost unavoidable that you think comparatively about language.” Turin speaks with a British accent, speeding cheerfully through anecdotes but always choosing his words with precision. He is a talented storyteller, and it is impossible to miss his delight and passion for his work as he delves into his tales. In 1991, after secondary school, Turin gained his first exposure to Nepal as an English teacher for nine months in a town called Kalopani in western Nepal, through the Schools’ Partnership
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profile Worldwide program. Nepal had caught his eye as the program’s newest offering, but he was surprised by the cultural gap he encountered. “Everything that you know and think you know is stripped away from you,” he says — for instance, sleep space and showers were communal, and it was shameful for a grown man to greet a woman with a hug. In his effort to understand Nepali culture, he once expressed his sympathies to a man with a shaved head, only to find that this was not a symbol of grieving but a manner of coping with hair lice. On top of this, he found himself simultaneously immersed in two languages: Nepali and Thakali, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by 6,000 to 8,000 people. The Kalopani villagers used both languages in conversation, making it difficult for Turin to distinguish between the languages and requiring him to later sort Thakali words from Nepali ones. It was in Kalopani that Turin discovered his passion for anthropology. By coincidence, an area north of Kalopani had just been opened by the government to foreign scholars for the first time, and Turin met several anthropologists who passed through his village. Turin had never heard of anthropology before, and it captivated him — to him, anthropology “seemed a study above all,” a holistic study of culture and language. Upon completing his teaching commitment, Turin started on an academic path inspired by those nine months in Nepal: first a bachelor’s degree at Cambridge, and then a doctorate in linguistics at Leiden University. The Leiden program fit well with his own trajectory due to its emphasis on linguistic anthropology through the “Himalayan Languages Project,” which funded doctorate students who wished to study endangered Himalayan languages. When Turin visited Project Director George van Driem to learn more about the program, van Driem asked Turin if he had ever taken linguistics. Turin confessed that he had not. “Good. Nothing to unlearn,” said 28 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
van Driem, who accepted Turin on the spot.
international recognition. Turin would spend nine months a year for the next decade with the Thangmi, and, for the most part, his relationship with them continued in the same vein — part mascot, part conduit to the outside world. After he started a family, however, he found a deeper form of acceptance within the community. He met his wife, Sara Shneiderman, in Nepal in 1997, and they had their first child, Sam, in 2006 in Amsterdam. The Thangmi women made a point of looking out for Sara by advising her throughout her pregnancy. During intermittent visits to Nepal over the next two years after Sam’s birth, Turin felt more a part of the Thangmi’s kinship-based social system. “It was lovely to be finally thought of as whole because you have produced a child,” says Turin. The Thangmi likewise gave Sam a warm welcome into their society — he chased buffaloes, attended the neighborhood school, and celebrated his second birthday atop an elephant.
n September 1996, Turin began his intensive training in field linguistics and descriptive and comparative linguistics and was surrounded by other doctorate students studying undocumented or underdocumented languages. But his time at the university itself was short: in order to complete his doctorate, Turin was required to study an undocumented Himalayan language himself. Van Driem showed Turin the map of the Himalayas in his office, where he had marked the locations of local languages with pushpins. He told Turin that he was going to get a cup of coffee, that he would be back in five minutes, and to choose a language while he was gone. Turin’s first choice was Thakali, but van Driem discouraged this: one of the dialects of Thakali had already been documented in German. Turin looked for a language at a similar elevation to that of Thakali: too low, and he would be s Turin assimilated into Thangmi surrounded by mosquitoes and malaria, society, he also began to learn too high, and he would be sharing the their language, an uphill task. mountains with smelly and aggressive “Just because a language is unwritten yaks. And so Turin chose to set off in doesn’t mean that it’s easy,” says Turin. search of the Thangmi, a culture which “There is no way in.” he had only found mentioned in one The first step was writing down published record in Europe: a paragraph the sounds that he heard, using the written by two Nepalese soldiers in the International Phonetic Alphabet. Then employ of the British Empire in 1928. came separating sounds and words. He sifted out some of the basic words that he Thangmi welcomed Turin and can be found in all languages, such celebrated his presence in their as “fire,” “house” and “mouth.” The community, inviting him to attend Thangmi language is marked by its the wedding of the shaman’s child — on heavy reliance upon kinship, and words the condition that he dance with the can change based upon the gender of villagers. To the villagers, Turin was an the speaker. Vocabulary, too, can be object of curiosity, a “cultural mascot” tricky: for instance, Thangmi has four as he puts it. On occasion, he would be verbs for “to be” and four verbs for “to roused in the middle of the night to speak come.” On top of this, the Thangmi a few words in English for visitors. But tended to assume that he could pick beyond this, Turin says that the villagers up their language just by listening and saw him as “a loudspeaker for their remembering. But Turin had grown up grievances, for their history, for their learning languages with written forms, concerns, for their aspirations.” Turin and he struggled to accustom himself to was a source of hope for the Thangmi, a relying only on his ear and his memory vehicle for their national and ultimately for language-learning.
Turin published a Nepali-ThangmiEnglish dictionary in 2004 and a more thorough grammar of the language in 2012. He delivered a copy of the grammar to the Thangmi last summer, who have taken great pride in its publication. “A lot of people were interested in its symbolic power,” says Turin. “‘The Thangmi language is this big,’ they can say.” He holds up his hands, two inches apart. Language death — “linguicide,” as it is often known — is a much-reported subject in the media today, and Turin has on occasion found himself involved in reports that present him as a sort of scholar-hero, single-handedly saving languages from oblivion. He adamantly rejects this narrative — indeed, it’s the first thing he tells me when I sit down to interview him. Rather, as he puts it, “You don’t work on a community, you work with a community.” Scholars can help — they can preserve one shaman’s particular recitation of a wedding ritual, or the word for a certain plant, or the conjugations of a verb — but their role
can only be a supporting one. Without favorable government policies and, more importantly, a community invested in language preservation, even exhaustive scholarly documentation won’t stave off language death. As a scholar, though, Turin does what he can. After leaving the Thangmi, he worked for the United Nations mission in Nepal and continued compiling his research in Cambridge until 2011, when he and his wife took positions at Yale. From here, he continues his work on increasing digital access to information on Himalayan languages. He co-founded the Digital Himalaya project in 2000, an online database that shares multimedia sources dealing with the Himalayan region. Turin is also the director of the World Oral Literature Project, founded in 2009 and co-located at Yale in 2011, which digitizes endangered oral literatures. Turin has also used his platform at Yale to help increase the visibility of the Himalayas in the North American academic community. “There is no
North American center for Himalayan studies. It doesn’t exist,” he says. Turin feels that Yale has recognized this void, and is grateful for their support of Himalayan studies. He is the program director of the Yale Himalaya Initiative. This program, founded in 2011, brings students and professors together from multiple departments to study Himalayan environment, livelihood and culture. Through the Directed Independent Language Study program, Yale students are now able to study Nepali. Nestled in the flattened Himalayan mountains of van Driem’s map, a pushpin indicates that the Thangmi language has been documented. But for Turin, his research is only a beginning. Turin’s pushpin is not the last word on the Thangmi — it is an invitation for other scholars to criticize and add on to his work. Turin alone does not save languages. Instead, he gives us a way in.
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THE SECOND-TIME SAYBRUGIAN
BY LINDSAY UNIAT
COURTESY OF STEWART PALMER
e carries a black briefcase and eats lunch alone in the Saybrook dining hall. A tall, gray-haired man with a booming voice, he could be mistaken for a professor. His name is Stewart Palmer ’14, and, at the age of 67, he returned to campus last summer to complete the final two years of the degree he began in the 1960s. For most of us Yalies, even our brightest college years can be dimmed with anxiety over GPAs, internships, résumés and grad school applications. The idea of spending this time studying simply for pleasure seems an unimaginable luxury, but for Palmer, that luxury is a reality. Palmer doesn’t have to worry about his postgrad future — launching a career, starting a family — because that future is already securely behind him. Palmer matriculated straight out of high school in the class of 1968. This was during the golden Yale of yore, when students wore a jacket and tie to dinner, homework on a weekend was “laughable,” and the women were 30 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
PHOTO BY SARA MILLER
at Vassar. During a medical leave in the middle of his freshman year, Palmer completed an IBM training session and was introduced to the up-and-coming field of computers. He was hooked. But in the mid-1960s, Yale didn’t offer the computer science major. By sophomore year, Palmer had completed the requirements of the French major and was told he’d have to complete a second major. He considered taking history, but he knew his real passion was computers. Unsure of which path to pursue and needing time off, Palmer left school in 1967 — at the height of the Vietnam War. “When I was first at Yale, I didn’t even know why I was here,” Palmer said. “I had the vague sense that I was going to Yale because my parents wanted me to go to Yale and that I was going to college because all of my peers went to college.”
month after leaving Yale, Palmer enlisted in the Navy for four years. After the war, he returned to New York to work at IBM. Swept up in the corporate world of computers
and gradually losing touch with his classmates, Palmer thought his Yale days were over. He had found what many of us aspire to: a great career in a field he loved. But something nagged at him, “this deep sense that I should have finished Yale,” Palmer said. “I had always said, ‘It’s a choice I made, it’s something I’m going to have to live with.’” But a few years ago, Palmer was visiting then-girlfriend, now-wife Priscilla Coker Palmer when he noticed her diploma on the wall. At the age of 52, she’d completed her unfinished bachelor’s degree in computer science through the Open University in London. “If she can do this, so can I,” Palmer thought. Completing a degree at a university in New York would’ve been the easiest route, but his biggest regret was not finishing Yale. He wrote to the Dean’s Office to inquire about readmission. He thought he’d complete his degree in computer science, so he contacted the director of undergraduate studies in computer science, Stanley Eisenstat. But according to Palmer, the
profile DUS advised him to choose a different major, a course of study purely for fun. “Eisenstat said to me, ‘You’re not doing this to get a better job,’” Palmer said. He began to flip through the Blue Book, and, by the time he finished the history section, he was “practically salivating.” He had made his choice. He even had one credit to count towards the new major: HIST 21b, taken in 1967. “All of a sudden, it became more than unfinished business. I realized I wanted to be stretched intellectually, and this could be an intellectual adventure.”
efore Palmer could be readmitted, he had to complete two other university courses, so Palmer enrolled at Columbia last spring after he retired. This was to show Yale that, after 90 semesters out of school, he could still do academic work. “My first midterm at Columbia can only be described as an out-of-body experience,” Palmer said. “I had something like a 99 average on all the problem sets, and on the midterm I got a 53. I said, ‘Whoa, I need to learn how to take tests again.’ It took a while. But I got the hang of it at Columbia, so when I got here, it was, ‘OK, I’ve done this before.’” Thomas Olsen ’82, who taught a summer session class called “From Gutenberg to Google Books,” said Palmer’s greatest challenge was learning more “developed and layered” academic writing after years of writing “boiled down” reports and memos for his job at IBM. Olsen was also concerned that Palmer would have difficulty transitioning to the unique give-and-take environment of a small college seminar. “After all, he had had a career at IBM of making important decisions with real consequences.” Olsen quickly saw from class that he had no cause to worry — Palmer didn’t dominate the discussion or intimidate his classmates the way Olsen anticipated. Rather, the professional background seemed only to be an advantage. Palmer, Olsen recalls, “was able to focus his energies in a remarkable way, perhaps
as only a trained professional with he is three times as old as most students years of experience with pressures and and goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. deadlines and a totally adult sense of “I see these parties that start at 10 responsibility can.” p.m. and go until 2:30 a.m. — I vividly Palmer’s writing partner for a fall remember doing that when I was that history seminar, Joshua Penny ’13, age, but that’s not where I am these noticed that he was more diligent days,” Palmer laughs. and timely than fellow students, but, Instead, Palmer occasionally goes to unlike many other Yalies, he never tea at the Elizabethan Club and spends flaunted how swamped in work he the weekends in New York or on Long was. In a music seminar, Palmer was Island. At the end of last semester, he open about how difficult he found the and wife also hosted Palmer’s “Disasters material, far more honest than most in America” seminar for a dinner party students would dare to be, according in their apartment on Wooster Square. to professor Richard Lalli MUS ’86. “It’s “It’s tons of fun being married to rare for a student to say that, and if they a college student,” Priscilla says. “He do, it sounds like a complaint, as if it brings home his work, and we talk about were an unfair assignment. I think that it. It’s all very exciting.” Last fall, when comes with experience. I hope that the Palmer’s stepdaughter had a law exam others learn you can be that honest and on the same day as Stewart’s economics humble.” midterm, the pair commiserated about Palmer was surprised that an how much studying they both had to do. engineering major in his music seminar was taking the class Credit/D/Fail so almer remembers thinking last she wouldn’t have to worry about her August that the final two years of GPA. He was also shocked to find that completing his degree would pass students could drop a class after the slowly. Now he thinks, “I can’t possibly midterm if they don’t receive a good take all the courses I want to take in two grade. Compared to the 1960s, Palmer years.” says, today’s Yale is no more stressful, “One of the things I liked about my but it is more intense. He remembers job was that I got to learn something his classmates were less preoccupied new every 18 to 24 months,” Stewart with attaining a near-perfect GPA and said. “But once you know just enough spent less time on homework. to do the work, you do the work and But near the beginning of his return you’re done. Here, you’re learning stuff to Yale, Stewart also felt the pressure just for the sake of learning it. Where to obtain a good GPA: any readmitted else do you get to do that?” student is permanently expelled if he “Stewart brought a passion for the fails a course in the first two semesters. classroom that, I guess, comes only after Worried, Stewart spent his fall semester years of being out of one,” Olsen said. only studying and attending class. “It wasn’t until the semester was over almer has no postgraduation plans that I realized it really would take work yet, but he’ll consider going on to fail a course,” Stewart laughed. “I to complete a master’s degree in didn’t really believe it, and then I saw history. If one thing is certain, he won’t the grades coming out.” He thought, be “going off to rot on the beach.” “Oh, you mean you could have gotten Palmer has never attended a reunion a zero on all the homework and still for the class of 1969, but he noticed that passed the course?” 2014 will be its 45th anniversary. He just Now, without the pressure of grades might show up for that reunion a couple weighing him down, Palmer hopes to of weeks after he graduates next May. be more involved in campus activities. But a college social life is difficult when
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YALE’S MAGIC TREE HOUSE
STORY BY HELEN WANG
ILLUSTRATION BY ANNELISA LEINBACH
drive 75.8 miles away from Collier’s advisers, “you can look out project during the school year, but the campus skyline formed by through the bower, the foliage, into when the ailing ginkgo tree in the TD Gothic towers offers entrance the wider world around you and courtyard could not promise to safely into a world silhouetted by towering really possess that world all the better bear weight, he had to find a new tree trees. In the middle of the Yale-Myers because your body is cozily held in to house his world. Serendipitously, Forest sits a 200-year-old sugar maple one spot.” Collier was already discussing the tree that will soon welcome more than The vision for the Yale Tree House mechanics of installing structures in just the most adventurous clamberers grew from a casual but charged trees with Kris Covey, a School of onto its branches for a sweeping discussion among friends in Timothy Forestry doctoral student and director view of the canopy. By the end of the Dwight about the magic and spirit of of new initiatives at the Yale-Myers school year, Griffin Collier ’13 will tree houses. Soon, the discussion grew Forest. The campus ginkgo tree was have installed in the tree’s branches into a conversation about building one no longer an option, but the Yalethe product of two years’ work: a tree in the college courtyard’s ginkgo tree. Myers Forest abounded in candidates. house. Collier brought his idea to TD Dean During Collier’s visit to the forest By the spring of last year, Collier John Loge, who encouraged him to this fall, he found the perfect tree, had secured permission from School carry out the vision and put the idea a sugar maple with hefty limbs of Forestry officials to build his tree in motion. The castle was built upon alongside the Branch Brook Trail. The house in the Yale-Myers Forest, had the clouds, and Collier set out to build forest, like much of Connecticut, was completed his design, and had only the foundations beneath it. farmland until it was deserted in the the immense task of finding $7,000 As Collier became more obsessed 1940s. Many of the trees are 80 to 100 to cover his projected material costs. with his tree house, what began as an years old, Covey estimates. The sugar He put together a three-minute enchanting dream began to come into maple, though, is a two-century-old explanatory video and created a page focus. During the summer of 2011, he wolf tree, meaning that it is much on Kickstarter, a funding platform drafted and brought his preliminary older than the surrounding trees in that allows individual backers to sketches of a TD tree house to Yale the forest. The century’s head start pledge any amount to support creative to show Brooks, who also subscribes allowed it to spread out, accounting projects, with the goal of raising to “the fundamental desire” to build a for its two thick, relatively low limbs $5,000. The support Collier received tree house. that give it a commanding presence far exceeded his initial expectations. A tree house, as defined by the and make it the ideal host for a tree Through Kickstarter, he has raised Oxford English Dictionary, is a house. $10,499 with 200 backers as of Feb. 2, “house built in a tree for security With the tree house’s relocation 2013 —surpassing not just his original against enemies” as well as “a child’s from the TD courtyard to the tranquil $5,000 goal but even his projected playhouse built in a tree.” Rich in Branch Brook Trail in the Yale-Myers $7,000 worth of material costs. its definition and connotations, a Forest, the purpose of the tree house Collier began with the seed of an tree house promises safety from real shifted as well. What was intended to idea to build the tree house during or ideal assailants in the safety of be a physical and mental retreat for the summer after his sophomore year. the tree’s embracing branches. The Yalies just a walk down Wall Street His desire stemmed from a vision construction is a portal through and a ladder’s climb away now has of a magical world he could build, which visitors can shed the weights an additional hour-and-a-half car removed from our own, that would of adult brooding to return to a child’s ride interposed between the student “embody imagination.” In a tree house, irrepressible lightness of spirit. and the experience. Though the tree says School of Architecture professor Collier continued to work on his house will exist by the end of the Turner Brooks ’65 ARC ’70, one of tree house as an independent art year, there is the question of how real 32 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
it will be for the students it aims to serve if many will never see it. But according to Collier, the tree house can thrive in student thought, leaving the ultimate aim of lifting student
to a playground, grounding its powers in evocation. A grand playground in the middle of Cross Campus complete with slides, swings, seesaws, and students’ shrieks would stir the idea of spontaneous play even for those who never lined up to go down the slide. “Even if you don’t play on it … it impacts you in that way,” Collier says. “And I think the tree house can do the same thing, even from a distance.” Collier believes that undergraduates who are intent on visiting the tree house will find a way to traverse the 75.8 miles to the forest. He is in the process of creating an undergraduate organization that will manage access to the tree house. Covey says that the School of Forestry already encourages undergraduates and the rest of the community to visit the forest, so long as the visit’s primary purpose is academic. Once the tree house is built, perhaps more undergraduates will venture out. The construction of the tree house in Yale-Myers adds majesty to the scenery: imagining the lone man’s structure deep in the chirping, crunching forest is a Walden-esque meditation in itself. With less traffic, the tree house will offer visitors a more tranquil experience. Once the new location was set, Collier had the task of designing a structure that would create a unique architectural experience while also complementing the tree. Achieving this balance was the struggle and eventual result of countless designs. From the start, Collier knew that the tree house would be anything but a house in a tree. “I think it’s very unhouse-like,” said Collier. “We could have built this fully functional house with a roof and a chimney and toilets inside, like a full house that’s just stuck in a tree, which is what a lot of tree houses are. That’s not what we spirits unaffected. wanted to do.” Collier acknowledges that it’s Collier’s design, a spare form difficult to articulate the exact that interacts comfortably with the meaning of the structure. He credits tree, makes no efforts to camouflage Dean Loge with likening a tree house itself in the forest — it glories in its yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 33
observer existence as a man-made structure that celebrates the wild. As Collier says in his Kickstarter video, “It frames nature.” “The dynamic of attachment is a negotiation between the man-made and the natural,” Brooks says. “It’s like the tree pushes back and tells him where to put the platforms, and I feel that it’s much more integrated with the organic quality of the tree than the early versions were.” Also embedded in the design challenge was the paradox of man damaging nature in order for him to fully appreciate it. Maximizing impact on the human experience while minimizing impact on the tree required Collier to acquire an understanding of the forest and his sugar maple in particular. He approached the design from every angle possible, consulting architecture professors, a tree house
“I think it’s very un-house-like,” said Collier. “We could have built this fully functional house with a roof and a chimney and toilets inside, like a full house that’s stuck in a tree ... That’s not what we wanted to do.”
research group, and forestry students, over time. Though he plans to leave among many more. New Haven next year, the School of The tree will of course experience Forestry will conduct inspections and some damage from the bolts drilled maintenance every couple of years, into the tree to support the weight of ensuring that the tree house will last, platforms and eventually the visitors by Collier’s estimates, for at least 50 who will stand on them. All wounds years. The tree, by Covey’s estimates, heal though, and Collier will use has a life that might extend another bolts that have proven to be the least 100. damaging to trees, allowing the sugar Collier’s work is not finished: the maple to grow around the tree house design may very well change as the structure begins to actually interact with the tree. In February, the yield “Treehouse Team,” a volunteer group Collier is organizing to build the he told me to put on my work clothes tree house, will begin constructing so i took his black and red checked flannel on campus the panels that will form that hung in the garage, pulled it over my head and it felt like the tree house walls. By mid-March, a dress, almost too beautiful. he had so many clothes for working. Collier hopes to drive the panels out he told me to follow him down across the street to the forest, where the team will and the dog ran beside us, didn’t know to look both ways. assemble the panels on-site. He calls you always have to look both ways, count to three. his construction plan “ambitious,” but and in the garden he told me what to pick. expects to see it through by the time he told me to be gentle, and to thank the plants. he graduates. he told me “here’s how you pick potatoes,” A fantastical energy surrounds the and he stuffed his hands beneath the soil, project. Professors and students alike felt around with his eyes to the mountains, transform into ardent dreamers as and pulled out one the size of his fist, soon as they talk about tree houses. shook off the dirt and it was so red, and so round. Brooks recalls hiding under overcoats i put my hands in beside his and touched his fingers and overturned furniture as a child, before digging for my own. i felt my nails turn black. looking for a space to feel safe. Covey it’s a careful thing, he told me when i went to toss remembers his makeshift tree house in my small harvest into the wooden bushel basket a pine tree, where he found “a feeling with its wired handles. of independence” in a place to escape. he placed his softly on the slatted bottom, and i did the same, And now Collier, who “never had a thinking we would never fill it if we took this extra time. tree that was good enough to build a tree house in,” is finally creating one the sun was falling and my knees were damp as we walked back; for himself, for Yalies, and for the tree. up ahead, i could see the ends of his hair turning gold.
— Katy Clayton 34 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | January 2013
YOUR PROFESSOR IS NOW ONLINE BY CLINTON WANG
ILLUSTRATION BY KAREN TIAN PHOTOS BY VICTOR KANG
t 10 a.m. on June 5, 2012, Molly Lucas ’14 logged into her seminar. Though it was the first class of the semester, there were no introductions or small talk between the students, no shuffling of feet and doors opening as shoppers ventured in — the 15 students here had already paid their $3,150 tuition. There was only the hum of computer fans. Even before this first meeting, Lucas had already read seven chapters from the course textbooks and watched and rewatched the first three lecture videos of the course over coffee at Willoughby’s or from the comfort of her apartment. Now Lucas was sitting all alone, eyeing each of the other students but never making eye contact, as they waited for class to begin. Professor Laurie Santos materialized on Lucas’ screen, her face looming over the students’ faces arranged in rows beneath. Lucas stared at all the faces of her classmates and professor, simultaneously. Santos broke into a smile and welcomed the students to “Sexy Psych,” the nickname for PSYC S171E — “S” because it was held in the summer, “E” because it was an experiment in online education, one of eight pilot online for-credit courses offered that summer. Video-conferencing tools have been employed in classrooms to bring in distant guest speakers or to connect two classrooms in collaborative activities. But in 2011, Dean of Summer Sessions William Whobrey and three enterprising professors wanted to experiment with a novel model of
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online education that would transcend the classroom. When the first three proof-of-concept summer courses were declared a success, the number was expanded to eight last summer. Santos was cognizant of the challenge that confronted her: to cover an entire course in just eight hours of instruction. She wasn’t sure whether the online format would work: students might not engage as well over Skypelike interaction. They might watch the lectures carelessly, there could be technical difficulties and it might be easier to cheat. But it was worth a shot. Lucas adjusted her webcam and headset, and then watched herself as she introduced herself to the class. She felt a strange sensation seeing her lips move in sync with her voice. “It was a little nerve-wracking at first,” Lucas says. When Lucas told the class that she was still on campus, a few laughed. Most students were taking this course online because they were anywhere but the Elm City — it was midnight for some students and midday for others. But Lucas already liked Santos’ classes, and thought she’d give online for-credit courses a shot while also taking other classes in person, and conducting research at the Yale Child Study Center. A classmate was having technical difficulties while trying to introduce himself, and his mouth lagged behind his voice. (Evidently, he had not read the course requirements for a good Internet connection before enrolling.) His face suddenly disappeared in the middle of speaking. Though he
reappeared in half a minute, it was clear that he wouldn’t be able to take the class. After hurried greetings and introductions, Santos went over course expectations, warning students to expect a heavy workload, since they had to watch the lectures on their own before coming to class. And class was not going to be discussion section “lite.” Then Santos jumped into the class material, posing open questions about natural selection and human evolution. Although separated from some of her peers by thousands of miles, Lucas found the online environment more intimate than the classroom. “With the professor right there at the top of the screen, I felt like she was talking directly with me, like I was having a conversation,” Lucas said. She raised her hand (or rather, held it in front of the camera), and the mirror image of her face was blown up to replace Santos’ on the screen, while Santos’ joined the ranks of the students’ faces. When Lucas had finished speaking, another student raised his hand, and his face replaced hers in turn. There wasn’t any table in the way, and Lucas didn’t have to crane her neck to see some of the students. She saw facial expressions, even microexpressions in other students that she had never noticed in the seminar. It was easy to forget that these were merely pixels on a computer monitor; this was face-toface communication in its most literal form. The exchange of ideas between the students blossomed. While the students
discussed their ideas in rotation, two other students were typing furiously, engaging in a separate commentary that popped up in the public chat bar on the side of the screen. The panel of faces on the screen also placed each student on an equal level to engage in the class. Lucas noticed that nobody tried to dominate the discussion, yet her classmates were generally engaged more actively in discussions than they might be in a typical seminar. There were the glitches and connection issues, the social barriers and the comical disturbances when a student’s parent would charge into the room and inadvertently disrupt the class. When the class ended, Lucas remained sitting in her chair in her apartment. There wasn’t the chatter between students filing out the classroom. No conversations about where to go for lunch, no gossip or news. Nothing but the hum of the computer fan again as the faces vanished from the screen. Lucas took off her headset and glanced at her schedule to see the times for her research and the rest of her classes, and she marked in the times when she could sneak in a video lecture or a chapter of reading. It was so much easier to spread out her work when she had the freedom to watch lectures anytime, anywhere. She could rewind and rewatch lectures to study or take notes, helping her better absorb and remember the material so that she could reference specific examples in section. If only online courses were offered
during the academic year. A FACE-TO-FACE INTERFACE The questions bombarded Santos from all sides: Will this harm Yale’s traditional values? How does this affect students’ expression or critical thinking? How are we able to evaluate their learning? Connecticut Hall was filled with professors from all departments at the Dec. 7 faculty meeting, as Santos testified to her online seminar’s success, five months after its conclusion. “It really felt like a live section,” she said. “I got to know students much better than I would as part of my big lecture class.” Professors Paul Bloom and Craig Wright presented the report from the Committee on Online Education, where they described the success of Yale’s first online courses offered for credit over the last two summers. With 14 online courses slated to run next summer, they argued that Yale should now extend such courses to the academic year — a recommendation that may be realized as soon as next fall. Bloom’s, Wright’s and Santos’ portrayals of the online experience
seemed counterintuitive. At the meeting, they suggested that Yale students prefer online seminars to seminars in a physical classroom. That students also learn more, focus more, participate more and remember more in a face-to-face setting. That rather than hindering interpersonal interaction and the flow of conversation, the digital environment facilitated it. The audience was alternately curious, enthusiastic and alarmed. Literature professor Paul Fry had been happy to see the rise of massive open online courses (nicknamed MOOCs) in 2007 through Open Yale Courses, which helped Yale spread knowledge to people from all walks of life in all corners of the globe. When Fry put his “Introduction to Theory of Literature” course online, he was delighted to receive thousands of grateful emails from viewers around the world, albeit disappointed that his course enrollment subsequently fell by half. But the online format being discussed at that December meeting was something else entirely, diametrically opposed to the MOOCs
Lucas noticed that nobody tried to dominate the discussion, yet her classmates generally more engaged than they might be in a typical seminar. yaledailynews.com/magazine | Yale Daily News Magazine | 37
cover in purpose if not in form. Though an interactive online seminar might seem like a logical step after MOOCs and webcasts, MOOCs only require a oneway transfer of information, while online seminars are hyperinteractive, exclusive, intensive, expensive and for credit. They are meant to recreate the full classroom experience — lively debates, thoughtful critiques, inside jokes and all — through a headset and 15-inch laptop screen. Many professors were skeptical that an online platform would stand up to the challenge. Some still are. Though Fry suggests there is a place for these small online classes in the sciences, he is convinced it would be “probably disastrous” in the humanities. “In the humanities, we’ll always need face-to-face interaction, and not just by Skype,” he insisted. But professor John Rogers enjoyed the online format for his class on Milton’s poetry. By freeing up the time delivering lecture, he could spend more time with the students covering the material in-depth through sophisticated discussions in section, which was impossible in his lecture classes. Still, Rogers was not fully willing to commit to the online medium, as were most attendees at the faculty meeting. Online education might serve as a flexible alternative, but it certainly couldn’t substitute for the in-person lecture or seminar, they thought. Even Bloom and Wright, who co-chaired the committee, were careful to present this new online format as an experimental mode of teaching that may have its niche in the curriculum.
Professors intuitively believed that the physical presence and body language was fundamental to the class experience. “When one only has access to the close-up of the face of a student and instructor, there’s a lot of other intellectual and emotional information that’s lost,” Rogers asserted, adding that he was frustrated by the inability to see body language. Similar thoughts were echoed by most professors interviewed, as they felt uncomfortable with the inherent limitations in the online setting to bridge students on a personal or emotional level. Wright was disappointed when students were less ready to laugh when he cracked jokes, and he was unsure whether students experienced the “emotional excitement of ideas.” “The infection of emotion that sweeps a room in a group setting wasn’t there,” Wright said. The video format “removes an element of human collective spontaneity.” But in contrast, music professor Thomas Duffy said he actually found it easier to get to know his students on a personal level online though he led a class of just seven students. “I had robust, enjoyable, ridiculous at times, interactions with my students,” Duffy said, grinning. “I think I know my students, I’ve never met some of them but I know what they like and what they’re good at, and I have some idea about their personalities.” How much these factors actually influence online education is anyone’s guess. Recent journal articles suggest that even remote psychiatry, where one might think that expressions and body language are particularly relevant, is
“The infection of emotion that sweeps a room in a group setting wasn’t there,” Wright said. The video format “removes an element of human collective spontaneity.” 38 | Vol. XL, No. 4 | February 2013
roughly as effective through online chat as through in-person therapy. Most students interviewed had not noticed any emotional limitations or did not believe that these losses compromised the class experience. “In a seminar, there’d be more time to have small talk with people. In the online classes, we commented on other people’s reading responses on a website, and that was pretty much the extent of our interactions outside of class,” Lauren Mathy ’13 said. “But I’m not complaining.” Perhaps an upbringing around Skype had accustomed the students to communicating with disembodied heads. Or, “maybe there’s some different social dimension that exists online,” said Whobrey, dean of summer sessions. “Somebody should do a study on this.” The scant research on differences between video-based communication and in-person communication suggests that students in online classrooms outperform those learning the same material through traditional in-person instruction, and Whobrey agreed that the quality of Yalies’ papers was generally higher in online classes. Introverts and students with strong time management skills also saw the greatest improvement in class performance. Of course, no one has yet stuck students in an fMRI to measure brain activity and hormone levels while using Skype, let alone while participating in a video-conference seminar. Until then, we can only speculate on the importance of gestures and physical presence. CAUTIOUS EXPERIMENTATION Yale is one of the only universities that hosts interactive online classes for credit. But even on this front it is lagging behind the University of Pennsylvania, which had already introduced two such classes to the academic year last fall. Penn’s platform has enhanced capabilities, allowing teachers to split students into small groups in separate chat rooms — useful for German class
— and allows students to turn off their video feed to preserve connection speed. Penn also offers large webinar courses for credit, where the class is too large to allow for an online discussion section. Even in these, professors have the flexibility to turn on a student’s video feed to ask a question, and TAs engage students separately in the chat feed. Last November, a consortium of 10 major universities, including Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University and Washington University in St. Louis, announced a deal with technology company 2U to offer over 30 online courses next fall for credit granted by the host institution. Though this frontier had been largely unexplored — and Yale’s platform was fairly cutting edge — the entry of the consortium, “Semester Online,” may soon leave Yale in the dust. The University has remained low-key in its development of online modes of education, paying little heed to the ongoing MOOC craze and resisting the temptation to join consortiums and sign on to platforms. It was not just any classroom experience that Yale needed
to preserve; it was the Yale classroom experience, and, to Whobrey, that was a fragile thing. Whobrey has seen seven committees consider various forms of online education at Yale, of which this merely represents the latest. “I see it in the spirit of experimentation,” he said. “This kind of software has only come along in the past five years, and that leap in technology is going to continue.” Penn’s Director of Online Learning & Digital Engagement Jacqueline Candido envisions that rapid progress in technology and research on online pedagogy will allow professors to improve learning outcomes in the online medium almost limitlessly. Candido challenges that even hands-on lab courses may be effectively adapted to the online format, citing some courses that already send chemistry kits to students to teach lab experiments. The limiting factor in improving learning will not be the online medium itself, but rather the technology of the time and the ingenuity of the professor. Penn is actively developing and pursuing these online classes as an opportunity to enhance undergraduate academics while promoting brand
extension and innovative teaching. On the other hand, Yale treats the online model as a promising prototype, still in the middle phases of testing. If it passes the final rounds of testing, then live classes will be offered alongside traditional lectures and seminars, as nothing more than an alternative mode of instruction. Though Whobrey expressed openness to specific, useful collaborations with other universities for the purposes of a single course — he gave the example of an architecture course between students at Yale and students at Tsinghua University, or the courses in little-studied languages shared between Yale, Columbia and Cornell — he wants Yale to be able to control its own path, and foremost, he wants to preserve the Yale experience. Even if Yale risks being left behind in the education revolution, faculty are more concerned that Yale risks running forward blindly. Yale classrooms will not go fully digital until everyone is sure they can preserve the same old Yale experience.
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