3 Decades of Dorm Tech

Notes from first-year student move-in day.

September 5, 2016

We dropped our older daughter off at college this past weekend.

We all got the full first-year student drop-off experience. A car full of stuff. The checking in. The receiving of a new college ID and keys to the dorm room. The schlepping of bedding, clothing, a microwave, and a mirror up the residence hall stairs. The meeting of the new roommate, and the roommate’s parents.

The goodbye dinner and the goodbye hugs. 

The end of one thing, and the start of something new.

The first-year move-in experience has not changed much since I was dropped-off back in 1987.

The dorms seem to look much the same. (Maybe first-year students are not housed in those fancy residence halls that we keep hearing about). The same groups of incredibly helpful groups 3rd and 4th year students on hand to help carry duffels and boxes. The welcoming Resident Peer Leaders (the name my daughter’s school uses for R.A.’s).

What has changed about residence hall life in the past 3 decades is the technology that the students bring.

How does dorm tech differ between now and 1987?

Stereos and Music:

I saw no stereos. Nobody was carrying speakers, an amplifier, a tuner, a CD player, a tape player, or a turntable up the residence hall stairs.

In 1987 you could tell a good deal about your floor mates by their music. There was always someone on each floor with a killer set of speakers. Most everyone brought racks of CDs. In 1987 my memory is that many had tapes, and some (the real music people) brought vinyl.  But everyone came with some way to play music - be it a full stereo rig or a CD boombox.

College students moving into their residence halls today today have no speakers. No boxes of physical music media. No boomboxes. I didn’t even see any clock radios.

Music today is something that is streamed to a phone, maybe a computer.

College music has become invisible. Abundant. Private.

Desktop Computers and Monitors:

The desktop computer that I brought to campus in 1987 (an all-on-one Kaypro) put me in a technological minority back in 1987. These were pre-internet days - even pre-color monitor days. My memory is that a few of the people on my floor brought a computer - but most still relied on the computer labs.

Some other 1987 first-year students even had those word processors with a screen and built in printer. (Check out this video of a Brother word processor from 1987).  I think I even remember a few typewriters.

At some point between 1987 and 2016 we experienced the age of the desktop computer.  If you could randomly travel back in time to move-in day between now and 2016 there is a good chance that you would witness monitors (first boxy, then flat) and CPU’s being carried up stairs and into dorm rooms.

During my kid’s first-year drop-off I saw zero monitors, zero CPU’s - and come to think of it - zero printers. Do today’s college students not print?

I’m sure that there were laptops and tablets tucked away in backpacks. I didn’t see them.

The only tech that was visible, come to think of it, was phones. Everyone had a phone. Every first-year student. Every parent.

What changes have you observed in residence hall tech?

Are first-year students coming with Xbox Ones, PlayStations, and gaming monitors to campus? I didn’t see any - but maybe I just missed them.

Nowadays, hot plates and toaster ovens are banned, but I fridges and microwaves are standard. (Some students were carrying what looked like a combined dorm fridge and microwave, and dorm fridges have gotten bigger than what I remember).

I didn’t see any standard drip coffee makers, but I saw more than a few Keurig rigs. (Can superautomatic espresso machines be far behind?)  

What technology did you bring with you to college?



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