3 Things Not In My New Home

And what these absences might say about the future of stuff in higher ed.

September 13, 2015

We just moved house. Downsized. A move motivated by a daughter going off to college (after a gap year), and a second daughter set to leave the nest in 2017.

As I look around at the boxes yet to be unpacked and the home in the process of being made, I mostly marvel not at what we have, but rather at what is missing.  

Our stuff is changing. How we relate to our things is morphing. And this shift in how we accumulate, utilize, and think about our stuff may hold some lessons for higher ed.

What is missing from our new home?

1. Bookshelves Full of Books:

I’m the child of an academic household.  I grew up in a home awash in books. For most of my life, I followed the pattern of book accumulation an display. My books, and my wife’s books, were not only the physical vehicles of the information between their covers. Our book collection was a map of our expertise, an embodiment of our values, and a tangible symbol of our aspirations. More than any other possession, our book collection showed the world who we were. We might live in a student rental or a starter home, the living may be strewn with kids toys, and the car may be rusting and decrepit. But we were always rich in ideas, rich in stories, rich in our books.

No longer. The physical book collection seems to have lost its emotional and status payloads. The last 5 years or so have been an exercise in divesting ourselves from our physical books. Separating from our books is no easy task.  Books cannot be simply discarded. A good home must found. We have diligently fostered our books out to used bookstores, libraries still willing to take in strays, and random strangers. Launching a book into the world takes more effort than acquiring one.

Today, our new home is largely free of paper books. Jeff Bezos (and the other Amazon shareholders) now own all my books, and I pay a fee to license and access them. My books are digital, residing in the cloud, not mine to share, sell, or give away. 

The physical books we retain are those books that can’t be digitized. Books we’ve contributed to writing. Our dissertations. Some texts of the various religions represented in our household. 

We are an academic family without the most important signifier of an academic family - you can’t come to our home and browse our books.

2. CDs and A Stereo:

You will not find any CDs in our house. No records either. At one point we owned towers of CDs, all neatly nested in their jewel cases. Nor will you find a CD player, an amplifier, a sub-woofer, or big and little speakers scattered around the house.

We listen to more must than ever before, but we own neither the devices that once played our music, or the physical containers of the music that we once played.

What we have instead is a Bose SoundTouch 20 Series II Wireless Music System. Through this WiFi radio we stream music from Pandora. One of the best investments that we have made has been to spring for the $54.89 annual Pandora One subscription. No ads, and high streaming quality, make for a great listening experience. We don’t miss all those CDs. We don’t buy music, we rent it.

3. A Television:

TV is the best.  I love to watch television. Put me in a hotel room with a TV and I will watch it.  I will watch sports. I will watch HGTV. I will surf the channels from top to bottom. If football is on - I will watch football.  The pull of TV is more powerful than my willpower. The reason that I don't own a television is not that TV is bad, but because it is so good. No TV equals more time to read books.

For a while we owned a TV that was not hooked up to any of the legacy TV sources. No cable. No satellite. No rabbit ears. The TV was hooked up to a Wii and a Roku, and through these boxes we could watch Netflix and Hulu and YouTube and other stuff. 

In our new home we’ve gotten rid of the TV.

From here on out, all of our video viewing will be on our small screens. Video through laptops and video through tablets and videos through phones. Video has become a personal and solitary experience. The family sits in the living room together and everyone watches our own screens, interacting with our own content. I grew up watching the Evening News (Dan Rather) and The Cosby Show and MASH and Barney Miller and 60 Minutes and Hill Street Blues with my family. I’m not really sure what my kids are watching on their screens. 

What are the things that we no longer have on our campuses?

What are the technologies that we can divest ourselves of in our classrooms and in our offices?

What are we holding on to because unlike homes we seldom move campuses?

What would we get rid off if we were starting again, but insist on keeping due some sort of organizational endowment effect?

What stuff do you no longer have in your home?



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