During the early 1990s, an obscure government-developed computer network called “Internet” was starting to gain exposure to the general public through the national news media. Though most Americans initially seemed skeptical about the usefulness of newfangled technologies like “e-mail,” college students were quick to embrace them.

By 1994, word of the Internet had spread like wildfire on college campuses, and its potential for electronic socializing proved immensely popular. Computer science students found themselves competing for lab space with scores of e-mail addicts. At many universities, demand exploded to the point that long lines of students stood waiting to use computers that had previously sat idle and neglected.

Not surprisingly, this kind of fierce competition for limited resources kindled a great deal of frustration. Students demanded that their institutions provide better service, more computers and more dial-up lines for those with home computers.

At USM, though, it seems that Internet access was still something of a University secret in 1994 — a situation that brought a different kind of frustration to students who wanted to “logon.”

This week we reprint an opinion article by USM student Christopher S. Rosin, headlined “[email protected]” It was originally published in the September 19, 1994 issue of the Free Press.

Brian O’Keefe can be contacted at [email protected]

By Christopher S. Rosin

Warning! One of the most unthinkable forms of discrimination and censorship known to higher education is taking place right here at USM. THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE AND THE CAPS DEPARTMENT DO NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THE INTERNET.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you know your UMaine System code number? How about your password? Better yet, try to get a hold of Wayne Barber. (Who?) Not exactly a household name? He should be to the USM community.

This one man is a CAPS department data support specialist. But more importantly, he is the sole facilitator of the most powerful communication tool since the printing press. To interact with the globe, you must first get through Wayne. And getting information out of this guy rivals my creditors attempting to squeeze a dime out of me.

Wayne is the one and only bureaucrat for a nine-thousand member student body who can relinquish your magical code and password. (Boy that sounds kind of odd. My cousin at the University of Anywhere gets his code numbers as soon as he registers for classes!?)

So go ahead, give him a call…

“Uh, yes Mr. Barber. I’m looking to use the Internet. Could I please have my code and password? Oh, I see… Come to the science building? Sure. I’ll be right there.”

No problem. You have time. Like 90 percent of USM students, you can go during that 20 minutes right after morning classes, just before lunch which is right before you have to go to work and later attend your night class. That doesn’t seem too much to ask for a chance to swim in an endless sea of information and interact with people from around the globe.

So it’s off to the science building.

“Hi Mr. Barber. We spoke earlier on the phone. I’m Jim Newbie and I’d like my code and password to the Internet! Gee, you need a photo ID? How about my schedule? That won’t work either, huh? My buddy said you gave him his code over the phone. Yeah, he is a computer science major. So what?”

Wayne doesn’t care that last Thursday night you lost your license which, by now, is affixed to a cobblestone in the Old Port by some drunk’s excrement.

So, you scrounge up 30 smackers for a new license, skipping groceries for the week, and once again you make your way to the Wizard of Oz.

“Mr. Barber, (pant, pant) I have my ID. Mr. Barber?” But there’s no sign of Wayne. Suddenly, some glassy-eyed work-study student exposed to too many EMFs at the massive CAPS command center appears and says, “Wayne is out to lunch. Come back later.”

By this time any student at a private institution would have snapped. Yet you refuse to be discouraged! Experiences like finding parking on the Portland campus and wading through endless financial aid red tape and blunders have made you strong! You will surf!

And then finally, on one glorious afternoon when your karma — but, unfortunately, not your car — is firing on all cylinders, you somehow correlate your schedule to Wayne’s and… oh WOW! Your very own code and password to the world of cyberspace.

That wasn’t so bad, you might say. But wait. It gets even uglier. This is just the beginning of the agony and frustration for any — as they disdainfully call us new users of the Internet – “newbie.”

I could go on and on with my grievances: about how dial-in users will soon be subject to a barrage of even more codes to gain access, or about how the Internet handbook passed out by the CAPS department is such a gross display of inadequacy for any user that it is nothing more than a sheer waste of paper, or about all of the other inside codes one must know before he or she can surf.

But Mr. Barber summed up the University’s stance on the ‘Net best one August afternoon. I had asked him about how to gain access to a particular service on the ‘Net which enables users to partake in discourse with minds from around the globe.

Said Barber, “The University does not support this service, however, access is not forbidden either.”

Barber admitted that he had used the service — but only once! I guess the devil made him do it…..

“But Mr. Barber,” I, or anyone, could have argued, “this service sounds like a wonderful, ongoing venue in which to exchange ideas. Isn’t that what college is supposed to be about?”

“That is not what most people use it for,” he replied.

The elitists, university thought police, and self-proclaimed intellectuals controlling the ‘Net are losing power and they’re scared. They should be. The ‘Net is free and the ‘Net is wild. It is billions upon billions of anonymous and personal conversations going on all at once, uninhibited by time or space. It can be enlightening, disgusting, or not what Wayne Barber and USM thinks it should be. But it should not be stopped, controlled or censored.

The system caught us dozing when we lost the battle for freedom on radio, in movies, on television, and over cable. I’ll be damned if I’ll lose it on the ‘Net to USM. Fight the power. Logon. 😉

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