The Land Before LAN


26082011334Sarvesh, an IITM Alumnus of 2006, talks of the advent of LAN and Internet, now indispensable parts of insti life.

As recently as in year 2005,  Internet connectivity in hostel rooms felt like a distant dream, a privilege available to select other IITs (we were 4th or 5th among the then 7 sister IITs), and a major crib  in  students vs. admin discussions.

Something as basic as being able to Google information for an assignment meant a cycle trip all the way back to department / Computer Centre, downloading the required information in a Floppy ([flop-ee] – a square black plastic case, usually available at Gurunath for Rs. 10/-, containing a magnetic strip that could hold a whopping 1.44 MB of data) and cycling back to hostel. If by God’s grace the Floppy got corrupted (what an appropriate name as when it came to reliability it was as good as Indian bowling line up), brace yourself for the ordeal all over again.

The earliest attempt to bring Internet to Hostel zones was in 2001 when 30 Windows based desktops, aptly called Moon Lab (in response to the Academic Zone Computer Centre (CC) which had SUN based systems), were set up in what is now the GG shop in Gurunath. Usage was rationed with auto log out after 30 minutes. The overburdened (30 desktops served 3,000+ students) and over surfed (life education sites topping the chart) systems aged sooner than planned and the whole set up was discontinued in 2003.

With DCF & Library computers still being set up, Computer Centre (CC) in Academic zone was the lone savior. It also served as a hub for India’s biggest “slipper exchange program” where it was guaranteed that you would not walk out with the same pair that you walked in with. So much so that to curb the nuisance, there were lockers set up that one could use to save the slippers from being stolen. I don’t think that arrangement worked because in my 5 years on campus, I never had to buy another pair and I knew I was not alone!

With this background, it’s not difficult to imagine that when at the end of 2004 the plans to wire the entire campus with broadband connectivity were announced, it was welcomed with a big collective sigh of relief. With continuous push and support from admin & student body, one by one, all the rooms in all the hostels got wired and it changed many things forever.

Looking back, the story does not feel any different than the story for rest of the world in terms of impact the Internet has had on our lives. The obvious benefits; convenience, access to information. As a result, better opportunities  materialized for us as well. Information being available on finger tips meant students could do lot more research when it came to apping, job hunts or even BTPs/DDPs. The whole trend of foreign internships grew because of it.

On the other hand we were not spared the adverse effects either. To put it plainly, the Internet trapped us inside our rooms and every interaction that used to take place outside took a beating. DC++, heralding a never-before seen availability of life education videos, became a norm; Yahoo chat & Orkut became omnipresent, and rivalries beyond Schroeter in the form of LAN gaming (AOE, QUAKE, Counter Strike were hot favorites) were born. The number of grand slams (bunking of all 4 slots in the morning) rose alarmingly with rise in night long gaming sessions and surfing which later on brought restrictions on usage beyond mid-night.

Personally, I feel there are 2 things that I would have loved to see preserved. The first one is the Saturday movie at OAT. Before 2005, it was a ritual that one rarely missed participating in. Most of us fell in love with OAT on the very first Saturday of being on campus as none of us had watched a big screen movie under the open sky before. To top that, there were areas earmarked for the junta of each hostel to sit and the verbal duels and sloganeering against other hostels that took place fueled the hostel spirit and bonding even further. All of this used to happen in front of Profs and their families and that used to add to the adventure. The interval time was most eagerly awaited, as some slide or other on a Lit-Soc or Schroeter results would be projected by the winning hostel in not so modest language and the uproar that used to follow was deafening! With advent of  the Internet, movies reached our rooms before they reached OAT and this great tradition died a gradual death.

The second one is the after-dinner rant sessions on wing coats where some of the wittiest and the most intellectual discussions that I have ever attended took place. The topics ranged from general crib to international affairs, and to existential questions of human life. To hear junta speak about these so vividly and passionately in person was far more stimulating than engaging in same conversations on Orkut communities and groups!

On a positive side, we did not see a decline in interest in Sports as feared earlier but that could be because by our 3rd/4th year all of us were inducted into the sports culture already and we made sure that freshies followed suit. I’m not sure if it has stayed on till today.

I think it’s human to feel nostalgic about the past and hence the article may give a “old was gold” sort of feel. But at a rational level, I believe that change is an inevitable part of our lives and it did more good than harm. That is why, whenever I visit  the campus, I watch my movies in OAT on Saturdays and in one of the hostel rooms during rest of the week!

Sarvesh a.k.a JJ, DDCE/06 was Hostel Affairs Secretary in 2004-05 and resided in Alakananda Hostel. He likes playing Squash and blogging. After graduating, he has worked with Capital One, Barclays and is at present with Aviva. He is also founding partner of (an Internship portal by IIT Madras, IIT Bombay and ISB Hyderabad alumni).

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