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BOOK REVIEW

Technique

Not your parents’ Technique

By Julia Lipman and Greg Kuhnen
STAFF REPORTERS

Kevin A. Simmons ’98, Editor in Chief

Andrew L. Hsu ’99, Design/Layout Editor

Nicole S. Immorlica ’00 and Timothy Dunn ’01, Photography Editors

Mark A. Meier ’99, Literary Editor

Compared to your high school yearbook, technique 1999 projects a sleek, minimalist aesthetic. It wasn’t always this way. Thirty-five years ago, it contained such items as a reverent ode to the “Techman” by a Smith student, and enthusiastic, self-provided descriptions of living groups. (From McCorm-ick’s: “We all will learn our etiquette/Each of us will be a social pet...Our eccentric ways we will reform/To society we must conform.”) The photos were accompanied by intentionally and unintentionally humorous captions. (“Are coeds real goils?”, asked one.)

But this isn’t your parents’ Technique. Its photos largely stand by themselves, or illustrate specific concepts. While recent volumes of technique 1999 have relied on large sections of photos with little text to tell their story, this year’s book sees the return of captions and even paragraphs to annotate photos. The return of text is welcome -- even the most involved student misses some events, and the captions will serve as welcome memory aids years from now when nostalgia leads us to sift through our book of memories.

Even if you were skeptical about how much mileage one can get out of the familiar MIT-as-hell concept, technique 1999’s introductory section should change your mind. Its literary quotations seem uncannily appropriate for both MIT life and the selected photos. A photo of 2.007 students bears the Milton quotation “...nor did he ‘scape by all his Engins, but was headlong sent with his industrious crew to build in hell.” Other quotation-picture combinations make you wonder if Virgil and Twain had anticipated what life was like at this place.

The “Life in Hell” section features the usual array of extraordinary campus views, but this year technique 1999 added several plates of glorious color to the book. While the color pictures are impressive, the most impressive page was a cold, quiet page with two black and white photos taken along Memorial Drive at night. The empty sidewalks and bare scenery have a late night loneliness that is as much a part of MIT’s culture as the pace and activity that are seen on so many other pages.

While the photography was generally good, a few pictures left us wondering why they were selected. Perhaps some last minute holes had to be filled. Another persistent complaint which applies to the past few years of Technique is the lack of sports coverage. While every sport has a picture, many sports are represented by pictures that are mediocre at best. Sports photography requires practice and an a cultivated intuition for the sport which is lacking from some of the photos. Next year’s editors should encourage their sports photographers to learn their sports thoroughly and bring that section up to the photographic standards of the rest of the book.

The news section features articles about the most significant national and world events of the past year, as well as pictures of the most significant MIT events. This approach provides some interesting juxtapostions; a picture of Al Gore speaking at the Tang Center appears next to the headline “Got Viagra?” It’s hard to quarrel with the events selected as most significant; impeachment, the Asian economic crises, Kosovo, and the Microsoft antitrust suit are all duly mentioned. It would have been nice to see a little more political analysis, though. An article on company mergers mentions nothing about their effect on downsized workers, while the Viagra article could have discussed debates about insurance coverage of Viagra versus contraceptives.

It’s harder to remain objective about issues closer to home, but technique 1999 tackles such contentious issues as freshman housing and alcohol policy with a look at both sides of the issues. The article on freshman housing provides a comprehensive, just-the-facts summary of the housing decision and its detractors. The article on alcohol policy, however, was a bit too sanguine, implying that few students opposed the policy changes and that those who did were only concerned that “social lives would wither without alcohol.” While this article argues that all living groups have “sobered up,” technique 1999 certainly did not censor photographic evidence to the contrary. In addition to these two articles, there’s a touching and descriptive, if at times lugubrious, tribute to Building 20.

One of technique 1999’s strengths is allowing the students to speak for themselves. By laboriously seeking student input from posters about various aspects of student life, editing out the scores of “More strippers!” responses, and compiling them, technique 1999 has created an accurate picture of student life that, perhaps more than any of its other content is clearly date-stamped with a time and place. The MIT of 1989 didn’t look like this and the MIT of 2009 won’t either. Other compilations, like one of excerpts from the Coffeehouse books, the “Best of the Police Log,” and “the wisdom of the MIT faculty,” also provide engaging primary-source documentation of the ideas, events and culture of this year at MIT. Perhaps Professor Donald Sadoway said it best in the latter section with this pithy proverb: “Not all that shimmers is gold, but it does have free electrons.”