Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Ah yes, my hour reign as the creepy guy watching everyone in the Helen C. 2nd floor computer lab has begun at 6:38pm. Fresh off of my Nutri Sci 132 mid-term appearance, I'm ready to just sit around for a bit and see what people actually do in computer labs.

I've picked a spot in the Mac section, somewhere near the middle of the room. Less the reflective walls on both sides of me, I'd have a great view of everyone tooling away, but I don't. The computer on my left is currently available, but I don't think this will last long, as there are less than a dozen macs open, while most of the Windows machines throughout the lab are in use.

Most of the stations in the Mac section have the bulky old CRT monitors, while the Windows ones have mostly 15" LCD monitors from NEC. My station is one of a dozen or so Macs with the same LCD display. The keyboard is a nice transparent job from Apple, and features the similarly designed optical "Pro Mouse", also made by Apple

Upon taking my seat, the woman to the right of me gave me the evil "your rotten music is too damn loud" glare. Interestingly enough, she has headphones on herself, though I speculate that these are only for show. She appears to be making an attempt at creating the world's most delectable baked good, as her screen is covered with various pictures of cakes, pies, and other pastries.

Down in the Windows section, there is a girl doing some homework, making some kind of data table or the like. Her neighbor is hammering away on a Hotmail Account (apparent because of the rainbow colored butterfly) in between looking up entries in a dictionary. I also spotted an older vampire-looking woman barely in sight over in the Windows area, however she caught me watching some of the people around the lab, so now I'm really thinking twice about walking over there to see what's she up to.

A guy behind me is drinking from an unlabeled green plastic bottle, something which I'm guessing contains some kind of hard liquor. He's working with Adobe Illustrator but appears to be having some difficulty with the program, as he's leaning back frustrated with his hands over his face. This may also be because whatever is in that bottle is disappearing quickly.

On the front side of my desk, there is a girl with her back to me on a rental car website, perhaps lining up a ride for Spring Break, which seems an eternity away from me right now.

After thirty minutes, all of the people I have observed so far are still here, which is surprising, because my pre-conceived notion about computer labs is that they are a quick in-and-out sort of place, where student and staff exchange quick emails, before hiding somewhere in the library with a ton of reading to do. People may be staying because they don't have access to a computer in their dorm or apartment, they don't want to do their reading, or perhaps because it's so much cooler to email your friends from the computer lab than from your own computer.

Nobody seems to be working on group projects, which I have seen in previous trips to the lab, this is probably because there are many computers all loaded with software most students can not afford, and also because most bedrooms on campus are already crowded enough, without trying to have a five person group sit in there around one computer.

At about the same time, someone sits down at the computer to my left, and the guy with the empty booze bottle departs. He's the first person around me I've noticed leave, and it's been almost 45 minutes since I arrived. My CD has just ended, so I must pick another one, giving me a great opportunity to check out some more of what's going on.

There are three lab assistances up at the desk near the door, if needed, but they seem to be doing some homework as things are running smoothly throughout the lab. They have not done a whole lot around the lab for the duration of my stay. I started lightly tapping the beat to Radiohead's "Kid A", which clearly ticked off a few people around me, who were working very hard looking at pictures of cakes and sending emails with dictionaries on their laps.

It has been just under an hour now, and while I am still here, I would just like to make a couple statements about this assignment: First, I feel very intrusive. It seems that if this assignment does not make you feel a little bit awkward, you just might be a stalker. Second, I think it is interesting how much the activity of what people are doing in here varies. A few people are sitting with a friend and talking a little bit while working or surfing, while others are more introverted, sitting with headphones on, or almost in a trance hard at work.

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