Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I observed about 50 people at the second floor lab in Helen C., 6:23 pm on a Sunday night.

There are many more people in the Windows side of the computer lab, and they get up after about 10 minutes – either to print or to get off a computer. Also, a couple people use their cell phones while doing their homework, something that a couple users don’t appreciate based on their heavy sighing.

Newspapers are strewn about the lab, but no one reads them. The newspaper in front of me has web addresses and call numbers for books. A user reads a book while a screen saver dances the time around his screen. About a quarter of the guys in the lab listened to music through their Dell PC’s; no one is doing this on the Macs, as they don’t have a headphone jack in the front of the computer’s tower. Two users drink those $3 Naked juices available in the café on the first floor, although beverages are prohibited in the computer lab. One user eats a muffin, drinks a drink and writes an email – almost simultaneously. Nearly everyone hunches over in their chairs, forwards or backwards.

One user is going through netscape.com, casually looking at the latest news. Someone else is in a chat room using AIM express, while looking at scores on espn.com. Others browse the internet erratically, constantly bouncing back and forth from their work in Microsoft Word. One girl uses both applications simultaneously, copying and pasting information from a museum Web site. There seems to be several people reading internet pages in different languages. I think the language is Chinese, but I’m not sure.

Microsoft Internet Explorer has an auto-complete that fills out the web address for what other users have inputted. To see what everyone else is looking at, I went to www.google-- and saw what came up – mostly job searches and about 40 searches on earthquake articles. There were no internet sites visited that contained earthquake articles, so I’m guessing the search didn’t go so well.

A small group is camped around a computer, facing someone who does what the group wants. This guy has a tough time doing what everyone wants at once and the process is extremely slow-going. The project looks to be something involving PR. One girl is very outspoken and seems to know what she wants but is unable to convey how to achieve it using the computer. Another user seems very computer literate, but does not add any ideas. When the group makes a mistake on the computer they laugh and the tension level of the activity drops. Others who make mistakes on their computers sigh heavily and seem to get upset …

This scene happens two times while I’m in the lab: a girl walks in, sees a guy she knows. She walks over, and stands next to the guy using the computer and starts talking. Her facial expressions seem amplified, as if they are competing for attention. Every laugh and smile is kicked up 20 notches, which elicits sighs from surrounding users. The guy constantly looks at the screen, so the girl talking is forced to look around the room while talking – at all the other people looking at their screens.

After watching people in the wall/mirror, I realize it’s somewhat transparent and a couple girls are looking at me funny from the other side, so I quickly leave …

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