The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | A Few Clouds

Imminent CollapseOur Impending Doonesbury

By Bill Andrews
CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR

Even though many people become rich, famous, and/or involved in the government after leaving MIT, it is the rare freshman who arrives already famous. Unlike Harvard “Natalie Portman” University and NY“Olsen Twins”U, we were just MI“Will Smith (almost)”T for a long time. But, as anyone who’s been following the news can tell you, this is no longer the case, and we have a veritable celebrity in our midst. Well, not really in our midst, per se, but in our perception of our midst, sort of.

For the sake of all you “I’m too busy to read the news or know what’s going on anywhere” types (or, as I think of y’all, “engineers”), allow me to make things clear. Alex Doonesbury, a fictional character from the syndicated comic strip Doonesbury, is a member of MIT’s class of ‘010. There was a big hullabaloo last spring when she was deciding which college to attend via an online poll, and MIT kids hacked it and cast like eight billion votes for MIT. Cornell and whatever the other school was got mad because they lost to cheaters, but Alex decided to come to the ‘tvte anyway (where she has 44 friends, according to the Facebook). It seems, however, that she’s been having a tough time.

Last week, the story line in Doonesbury has been a series of calls Alex made to her dad, Mike, trying to get him to take care of some problem for her. When she has trouble with her first pset, or she didn’t get into the HASS-D she wanted (and, might I add, what a strange thrill to read “HASS-D” in a newspaper other than The Tech), or her groupmate is storing mold in the common room fridge, she calls home to get her dad to fix it. As an astute reader pointed out in the online Doonesbury forum, since Mike is wearing the same outfit in each comic, the implication is that Alex has been making her calls on the same day.

Let us, for a moment, consider this portrayal of an MIT student as a scared, unresourceful kid. Granted, it’s realistic and we’ve all been there and it’s just a phase and all, but we know that; does the rest of the world? Thanks to Alex’s difficulties, MIT’s facade of monolithic smarts may begin to chip away. I feel like we have such a mystique of impenetrable intelligence that it seems a shame to expose us as mere mortals after all, like it’s watering down what it means to be@mit.edu.

I felt the same way when a cannon magically showed up on the Dot. Yes, it was an unbelievably great hack, and we got ’em good for the year before, but now look: people think there’s this long-standing rivalry between MIT and CalTech. Before CalTech ‘pranked’ us (by handing out shirts and leaving some inflatable palms around), we didn’t really care about them. Sure, we knew of their work and were suitably impressed and all, but a rivalry? As if we were equals? Please. Now we can expect more interaction with them and have either descended to their level or raised them to ours, depending on how much water is in your glass. Either way, MIT was left less ‘in a class by itself,’ which is how I always thought of us.

On the other hand, perhaps Alex’s humanization of MIT is just what the PhD ordered. When we’re revealed as human, there’s less pressure on us to do the impossible, to live up to some amazing standard. Realizing that we’re not just a bunch of math and science nerds, more people might start applying, increasing the diversity (and thus overall quality) of our populace. And, non-trivially, the world in general might start to see that we can actually be cool, interesting people; to see the importance, realize that employers like to hire interesting people.

So Alex Doonesbury is showing the world how we’re like everyone else, and here I am wondering if it’s worth it. I mean, it is pretty amazingly cool. Who knows what details of campus life might show up in future strips? Will Alex declare course VI, like everyone else? Will she start talking in numbers, and missing sleep, and going to LSC? Will she become a hacker? My fiancee and I think it would be awesome if it turns out she’s living at Senior Haus, even though I think Burton-Conner’s more likely. What neat things about us will she expose to the rest of the world? Then again, what secrets about us would we prefer remain hidden?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and read about it in the papers.