Why Are College Students Not Choosing Math/Science?

microscope

From the Wall Street Journal in 2011:

Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%

After coming up with the topic for the post, I found this article from 2011 with a similar title and citing the same WSJ story. It argued that the high school teaching environment was not adequate in preparing students for rigorous classes in college. 

In addition, the article includes the argument that in the math and sciences, answers are plain right or wrong, unlike in the humanities and social sciences.

I can agree with these two points, but I want to add a few more, with the perspective of year 2013. Also, I am going to narrow down the STEM group a bit more, to just include math and science. The main reason is that in the past years, the number of CS majors has actually increased rapidly. At Cornell, engineering classes can be massive and there does not seem to be a shortage of engineers. Walk into a non-introductory or non-engineering-oriented math class, however, and you can often count the number of students with your fingers. So even though STEM as a whole is in a non-optimal situation, engineering and technology (especially computer science) seem to be doing fine. So then the question remains.

Why Is America Leaving Math and Science Behind?

I mean this especially with regards to theoretical aspects of math and science, including academia and research.

In this situation, money is probably a big factor. The salary of a post-grad scientist (from one article at $37,000 to $45,000) is pitiful compared to that in industry (which can a median early-career salary of up to $95,000, depending on the subject, according to the same article). Essentially there is a lack of a tangible goal.

There are other factors besides money. Modern math and science can be quite intimidating. All major results that could be “easily” discovered have already been discovered. In modern theoretical physics, for instance, the only questions that remain are in the very large or the very small—there is little left to discover of “tabletop” physics, the physics that operates at our scale. Most remaining tasks are not problems in physics, but puzzles in engineering.

Modern mathematics is very similar. While there are many open questions in many fields, the important ones are highly abstract. Even stating a problem takes a tremendous amount of explanation. That is, it takes a long time to convey to someone what exactly it is you are trying to figure out. The math and science taught in high school is tremendously unhelpful in preparing someone to actually figure out new math and science, and it is thus difficult for an entering college student to adjust their views of what math/science are.

Even the reasons for going to college have changed. More than ever, students list their top reason for going to college as getting better job prospects rather than for personal or intellectual growth.

In addition, society seems more than before focused on immediate gain rather than long term investment. Academia’s contribution to society, especially in math and science, is often not felt until decades or even centuries after something was invented. Einstein’s theories of relativity had no practical application when he made them, but our gadgets now use relativity all the time. Classical Greece knew about prime numbers, but prime numbers were not useful until modern-age data encryption was required. Even a prolific academic could receive very little recognition in one’s own life.

However, with the rise of online social networks in the last several years, you can now see what your friends are up to and what they are accomplishing in real-time. This should at least have some psychological effect on pushing people towards a career where real, meaningful progress can be tracked in real-time. Doing something that will only possibly have an impact decades later seems to be the same as doing nothing.

Considering the sentiment of the last few paragraphs, it might sound like I am talking about the decline in humanities and liberal arts majors. Indeed, while the number of math and science majors is increasing (though not as much as in engineering/technology), it almost seems like the theoretical sides of math and science are closer in spirit to the humanities and liberal arts than they are to STEM. The point is not for immediate application of knowledge, but to make contributions to the overall human pool of knowledge, to make this knowledge available to future generations.

Is this just a consequence the decline of education or the fall of academia in general? STEM is not really education in the traditional sense. It is more like technical training.

In all, the decline of interest in theoretical math/science is closely correlated with the decline of interest in the humanities/liberal arts. Our culture is fundamentally changing to one that values practicality far more than discovery. (For instance, when is NASA going to land a human on Mars? 2037. JFK might have had a different opinion.) Overall this is a good change, mainly in the sense of re-adjusting the educational demographics of the workforce to keep America relevant in the global economy. But, we should still hold some value to theory and discovery.

Additional resources:

  • National Science Foundation statistics – [link]
  • National Center for Education Statistics – [link]
  • Pew social trends – [link]

Why Atheists Might Seem Nonvocal About Social Issues (Even Though They Strongly Support Your Views)

Today the same-sex marriage “debate” went to the Supreme Court. In support of marriage equality, vast numbers of people on Facebook put up the following symbol as their profile picture:

red-equals-sign

Now consider the following Pew survey result from 2012:

pew religion politics report same sex marriage 2

As the numbers show, 89% of atheists and agnostics were in favor of same-sex marriage, while 76% of white evangelicals were against it. Yet on the news, one rarely ever hears about atheist groups talking about their support for same-sex marriage, while you hear religious people speak against it all the time. Granted, the religious in America outnumber the nonreligious by large margin, but why does the atheist crowd seem silent in comparison?

Atheists Are Too Far Ahead of the Pack

While there are many factors that help to explain the apparent silence of atheists (such as the taboo on religion, or the societal distrust), one additional factor, which is to my knowledge so far unspoken, is that atheists have already considered this issue, overwhelmingly taken the side supporting it, and then moved on. To them it is absurd that there is still a debate about it, and it is absurd in a 21st century society, those viewed as different are still being discriminated against by the law.

This was at least the case for me. Though I am straight, I have always been a supporter of the LGBT movement, but I was under the impression that any year now society would adapt, so up to this point I have been completely silent on this issue. I thought it would take care of itself as people got used to it. But apparently not: We as a society are still seriously bickering about it in 2013.

In the meantime, I was more primarily interested in the issues of education and the environment, two issues that really should deserve attention. I think that, from a societal perspective, the war of and on LGBT rights is a waste of time. We could be focusing our attention to saving the environment or bettering the education of the future generation; instead, we devote much time and resources on a social issue that frankly should have been finished decades ago. I can certainly understand why it is an important social movement. But in the back of my head, I can’t help but to think that every minute this “debate” on same-sex marriage drags on, the more messed up the Earth’s environment becomes, and the more difficult it will be in the future to fix it. And so on.

I think this is one significant factor in the apparent silence of the atheists. They have already thought about these social issues a long time ago and do not want to waste their time re-debating it now. Or they cannot understand why someone would be so against such movements in the first place, as they did not grow up learning lessons from a bigoted holy book instructing them to be against such movements.

Other Issues

Similar to this “debate” are the “debates” on the issues of women’s rights and abortion (both in the US and around the world). In the big picture, they are just wastes of time, just as a “debate” about whether we should teach children that the world is round is a waste of time.   (If you were wondering why I use the word “debate” in quotations, here’s why.) Don’t get me wrong—I support both movements, but I find it appalling that it is still in issue in the year 2013. It is really very simple. Women should have equal rights to men, and women should have the right to choose. These questions should have been settled decades ago so that we do not need to spend our efforts on it now.

This is the 21st century. Grant everyone equality, and move on to more pressing issues.

Now what does this have to do with atheism or religion? Well, the primary force holding back the LGBT movement, women’s rights, or their right to choose, is in all cases religious beliefs. The poll results (from earlier in the article) are very telling. The atheist/agnostic vote favors marriage equality 89% to 7%. Even though the American population overall is in favor by 48% to 44%, if you subtract off the nonreligious people, it becomes 41% to 50%. If you just include the group of Christians, the compassionate religion, it is 39% to 52%. The atheist group is overwhelmingly pro-choice as well. And regarding women’s rights, it is not a coincidence that it is the most religious, theocratic nations (particularly Islamic countries following strict Islamic laws) where women are the most subjugated.

For same-sex marriage, look again at the atheist/agnostic result: 89% for, 7% against. If there was serious debate within the atheist community in the past, it is long gone now. And this, along with the similar numbers for abortion, lead to the following conclusion. Since atheists and agnostics are not bound by any scripture that is explicitly anti-gay or anti-women, they are the first to adjust to the facts and move on. The nonreligious but still spiritual group, with the next highest percentage supporting social progress, moves next. Finally, the religious group as a whole trudges on the slowest and with the most resistance. And when, decades later, they finally adapt to the situation, they pick different interpretations of Bible quotes and try to make it seem as if they were the good guys all along. (Watch out for this. With no unexpected events, in 2050, Bible fanatics will be saying, “Oh look, the Bible supports gay marriage.”)

Is It Even Worth the Time?

While religion still acts like a brick wall to social progress, society can advance only at a snail’s pace and with great sacrifice and cost along the way.

I am not saying that society should outright get rid of religion tomorrow (enacting things suddenly has had dire consequences in the past), but at least something should occur so that religion does not have to act against and hinder social progress whenever it arises. And then we might make some real progress: we might finally be able to save the environment, eradicate poverty, enjoy world peace, and travel to new worlds.

So is the fight against religion worth it? For the sake of humanity, yes.

Hitchens: How Religion Poisons Everything

This was my first Christopher Hitchens reading, so it took a few pages to get adjusted to his style of prose.

god-is-not-great

It is interesting to compare God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006). Hitchens’ style is far more direct. Here is cool chart that I linked to in my previous post (click to expand):

intp-intj-dawkins-hitchens

While Dawkins constantly hedges his arguments and states the caveats, Hitchens explicitly makes clear his disapproval and wastes no time in getting there. The following excerpt is from as early as page 6.  Pardon the lengthy quotes, but Hitchens writes in long form:

There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness. We atheists do not require any priests, or any hierarchy above them, to police our doctrine. Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us, as are relics and the worship of any images or objects (even including objects in the form of one of man’s most useful innovations: the bound book). To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another: to the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage, or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or shrine or rock, we can counterpose a leisurely or urgent walk from one side of the library or the gallery to another, or to lunch with an agreeable friend, in pursuit of truth or beauty…. We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.

Hitchens is also wanting to provide large amounts of detail to counter even simple claims. Whereas Dawkins, whose arguments are mostly logical, appeals to the logos, Hitchens appeals to the pathos. Whereas Dawkins attacks the biological improbability of the virgin birth, Hitchens ridicules it by comparing it to other instances of it in other cultures. Dawkins says it was more or less impossible, while Hitchens says if it did happen, then it was not very impressive:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence. However, this made no difference during the Crusades, when a papal army set out to recapture Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the Muslims, incidentally destroying many Jewish communities and sacking heretical Christian Byzantium along the way, and inflicted a massacre in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where, according to the hysterical and gleeful chroniclers, the spilled blood reached up to the bridles of the horses. (22)

He is not afraid to call aspects of religion outright stupid.

The other man-made stupidities and cruelties of the religious are easy to detect as well…. Nothing proves the man-made character of religion as obviously as the sick mind that designed hell, unless it is the sorely limited mind that has failed to describe heaven—except as a place of either worldly comfort, eternal tedium, or (as Tertullian thought) continual relish in the torture of others. (218)

And on the “issue” of contraception:

Every single step toward the clarification of this argument has been opposed root and branch by the clergy. The attempt even to educate people in the possibility of “family planning” was anathematized from the first, and its early advocates and teachers were arrested (like John Stuart Mill) or put in jail or thrown out of their jobs. Only a few years ago, Mother Teresa denounced contraception as the moral equivalent of abortion, which “logically” meant (since she regarded abortion as murder) that a sheath or a pill was a murder weapon also. She was a little more fanatical even than her church, but here again we can see that the strenuous and dogmatic is the moral enemy of the good. It demands that we believe the impossible, and practice the unfeasible. The whole case for extending protection to the unborn, and to expressing a bias in favor of life, has been wrecked by those who use unborn children, as well as born ones, as mere manipulable objects of their doctrine.

The main takeaway point of this book is similar in spirit to that of Dawkins’ book. Dawkins argues that religion does not deserve special treatment and that the belief in gods is logically absurd, while Hitchens takes the taboo part of religion for granted and attacks the social consequences of it. Their books overlap in that they both view religion as a negative, but they are otherwise two totally separate books that complement each other well.

INTP

mbti-diagram

I stumbled upon the Myers-Briggs type indicator a long time ago, obtaining the result INTP. At the time I thought it was just another personality test on the Internet, but last week I heard one of my apartment-mates using his INTJ result to explain his views on a particular topic. After researching it for a bit, I learned that the Myers-Briggs type is actually widely used.

Of course, there are many caveats to the result, and there is much variation. In fact, just to confirm it, I tried different unofficial websites and ended up with INTP on all of them except one, which gave ENTP.

The way the type indicator works is that each letter represents a particular preference. The preferences, given as dichotomies, are given below:

  • (E) Extraversion – (I) Introversion
  • (S) Sensing – (N) Intuition
  • (T) Thinking – (F) Feeling
  • (J) Judgment – (P) Perception

After reading through some articles on INTP, I found that the predictions fit almost perfectly. Just to make sure, I checked some of the other types to make sure I would not fit those, and indeed it was the case.

INTP

(Credits to a friend at Cornell for finding this behavior on Wolfram.)

Here are some interesting or funny quotes on INTPs from various websites, some of which particularly applied.

[Site 1]

  • “INTPs live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They see everything in terms of how it could be improved, or what it could be turned into.”
  • “They are the ‘absent-minded professors’, who highly value intelligence and the ability to apply logic to theories to find solutions.”
  • “Sometimes, their well thought-out understanding of an idea is not easily understandable by others, but the INTP is not naturally likely to tailor the truth so as to explain it in an understandable way to others.”

[Site 2]

  • “They may venture so deeply into thought as to seem detached, and often actually are oblivious to the world around them.”
  • “They spend considerable time second-guessing themselves.”
  • “One of the tipoffs that a person is an INTP is her obsession with logical correctness.”

[Site 3]

  • “It is a bad idea to lie to an INTP.”
  • “INTPs cannot stand routine work – they would much rather tackle a difficult theoretical problem.”
  • “They absolutely love new ideas and theories and would never miss an opportunity to discuss them with other people – however, this never-ending thinking process also makes them look somewhat pensive and detached, as INTPs are perfectly able to conduct full-fledged debates in their own heads.”

This last point is interestingly worded and strikingly true. I debate myself all the time. I even play myself at chess. And the best part—at least once, I have played an entire chess game in a dream. Just a couple weeks ago, I also logically corrected some statement, while in a dream. (Well, technically I was talking to a person who corrected me, but given that this was in my dream, this meant I basically corrected myself in a dream.) I wonder what Freud would say about that.

The first site that introduced me to Myers-Briggs was actually this one, which lists celebrities by type, celebrities including academics, scientists, philosophers, writers, politicians, social activists, etc. In addition, the INTP page has a link to a comparison between Richard Dawkins (INTP) and Christopher Hitchens (INTJ). The comparison is pretty interesting (click to expand). [Edit: The site has a free MBTI test. With a sample size of 1, it seems pretty accurate as I did get INTP.]

Finally, I want to talk about the one ENTP result. Perhaps INTP and ENTP are close enough? On one of the tests where I scored INTP, a test that gave percentage breakdowns, the NTP were each 70-90%, while the I vs E was only 60%. I suppose this makes sense as for some situations, especially during time pressure, I forgo logic and use intuition instead (apparently one of the differences is dominance on thinking for INTP versus on intuition for ENTP). In speed chess, I basically play solely using intuition, unless my intuition tells me I actually need to calculate. Of course there are many other differences between the two. Overall it seems I may be both INTP and ENTP, but with INTP more active.

Stress and GPA-centrism in College

studying

Every time papers, projects, and prelims come around, the campus stress level rises dramatically. Sleep is lost (or outright skipped), meals are avoided, and all activities other than studying are brushed off. This happens not once a semester but throughout, corresponding to large assignments for every class.

And every time this happens, it seems that many students are focused not on actually learning the content, but on scoring higher grades than others. Of course, this phenomenon occurs in certain majors (engineering) much more than others. And I would guess that it happens at Cornell at an above average rate compared to that of the typical university. But it raises some questions that I want to explore.

Just a couple of notes. First, this article will mainly focus on the math/science/engineering side. And second, I do not think I need to mention why Cornell should be concerned about student stress.

Should Competition Be GPA-Focused?

Competition to a certain degree is beneficial, and I think no one would argue with that. As a math major I know very well that competition leads to efficiency. But there is a line where the marginal benefit in efficiency is not worth the huge increase in stress levels, and in this respect I think Cornell has crossed the line for good.

In addition to the GPA competition, there is the additional factor that students are competing for jobs, internships, and research positions. I think the competition here is mostly fine (except regarding salaries vs societal contribution; this topic deserves its own post). Combined with academic competition, however, this induces a vast amount of anxiety and stress in the students.

Without mentioning names, I will list some of the extreme behaviors I have observed of people I know:

  • A student pulled multiple all-nighters in a row to finish a project. While this might be plausible in real life for a rare occasion such as a doctoral thesis or a billion dollar merger, the student did this regularly for his classes.
  • A student has problem sets due on four out of five of the weekdays, and spends literally all his time outside of class eating, sleeping, or doing problem sets. In one particular class, the problem sets he hands in are 10-20 pages per week.
  • A student took 50+ credits in one semester, though he claims to know of someone who took 61.
  • A student brought a sleeping bag, refrigerator, and energy drinks to one of the school computer labs, and pretty much lives there, returning to his living place once every few days to shower.

Interestingly enough, I think these particular students will do fine, as they seem to know their own abilities and limits, and more importantly, they are all aware of what they are doing. They are also all very smart people who can actually learn the material. This “top tier” of students is not really adversely affected by competition, since they are smart enough to excel regardless of whether competition exists. Moreover, these students don’t seem to be grade-focused: they learn the material, and the grade comes as a byproduct of learning.

The group I am actually concerned about is the second tier. (Note: I just realized after typing this how judgmental that statement sounds, but hey, from statistics, unless you define the first tier to include everyone, there must be a second tier.) This group I would define to be the smart people who don’t seem to understand how the first tier operates. They see the students in the first tier getting high grades and know those students are smart, so they think that if they prepare the tests well and get high grades, they will become as smart.

What they don’t realize is the difference in cause and effect. The first tier prioritizes understanding first and the grades come as a byproduct, whereas the second tier prioritizes grades first and hope to gain some understanding as a byproduct.

Again, just as a disclaimer, these are just arbitrary definitions for first and second tier I made up for this particular observation. I am not saying that this criterion is the final say, and of course, there are numerous other factors regarding how well one does in college.

But from my experience, it is precisely the students in this second tier who are stressed. They are the ones trying so desperately to beat the test instead of to learn the material. And they are the ones who make college seem so competitive, as you can always hear them talking about tests and what their friends got on the tests and how they are being graded and what the format of the test will be.

On the other hand, the student I mentioned above who lives de facto in one of Cornell’s computer labs—I have not once heard him talk about anything specifically regarding a test.  The closest was talking about the material that was to be covered, but he was talking about stuff that was beyond what the class taught for the topic, stuff that he knew was not going to be on the test.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s great, but what kind of job is he going to get if he is not grade-focused?” Good question. After working there for a summer internship, this same friend rejected a return offer from Goldman Sachs.

How to Break from GPA-centrism

I am not worried about this person’s career at all. I am worried about the second tier, the smart people doing mundane tasks, wasting a lot of potential creative brainpower that the world needs more than ever. Renewable energy, bioengineering, artificial intelligence, space exploration and colonization, nanotechnology—there are so many people here who would be excellent for these fields, yet many of them seem too bogged down by current competition-induced stress to even think into the future.

Indeed, this GPA competition is a force to be reckoned with, as it really is self perpetuating. Those students in other groups or who are apathetic to grades will tend to become more grade focused just from sitting in lecture, as there are always people who ask for as much details of the test as possible. I feel that this defeats the purpose of a test, which is to measure how well you know the material or how well you can apply a certain skill, not how much of the test structure you can memorize or how much content can you cram the night before.

Overall though, there are some measures that can be taken to reduce this kind of stress.

  • Reduce the importance of the GPA. I do not know if I would go so far as to remove it, though. For example, at Brown University, the GPA is not calculated. Somewhere in the middle ground should be best.
  • Stop showing score distributions, or show them only for major tests like a midterm/final. In many engineering classes at Cornell, the first thing that is requested after a test is graded is to see the score distribution (often in graph form), along with the mean, median, standard deviation, etc. In fact, this has become so common that it is now the first thing the professors put on their lecture slides. Moreover, the computer science department uses an online course management system which automatically tells students the mean, median, standard deviation, etc. for every single assignment, not just tests. Being a math major who would normally love extra statistics, I thought this was cool at first. But now I despise it—it is just too much information that I don’t need in order to learn the material, and it only detracts from my learning experience. And the way the page is setup, it is not something you can just ignore.
    • A side note: One of my classes in the CS department actually does not list grades, and I definitely feel more pressured to actually learn in that class, not more pressured to beat other people at grades like in other CS classes. Props to Professor John Hopcroft.
  • Teach better math/science/engineering/CS much earlier in the education system. A friend showed me this article today, a comparison between the CS education systems of the US and Vietnam, a comparison that is horrific for the US. If students already knew the foundations, then college would be what it was supposed to be: going really deep into a topic in a learning atmosphere, not treating us like elementary school children because, well, frankly that’s the level of engineering/CS of many college entrants. For instance, I think it’s great that students are trying to take Calculus 1 freshman year and then do engineering. Hard work is certainly a virtue. But wouldn’t it be much better for both the student and the college if they mastered calculus in high school? Imagine how much better our engineers would be.

What I envision is a class where students are trying to learn, not to beat each other on a test. I hope this vision is not too far-fetched.

College and Smartphones

Photo from Newegg.
Image from Newegg.

Last December I obtained a Samsung Galaxy S3, my first ever smartphone. Yes, I’m only about 6 years late to the smartphone party. Before this, I had been using a Motorola Razr flip phone for years and didn’t really think a smartphone was necessary. But after just three months, it is already difficult to imagine not having one.

Smartphones in College Life

According to various reports I found, somewhere between 50-70% of college students have a smartphone. But statistically, at a school like Cornell, whose students come from families that more affluent than average, it would be reasonable to assume the percentage should be much higher. In fact, almost everyone I know here has a smartphone.

According to one source, the percentage of all college students who had a smartphone in 2009 was about 27%. Another source claims that the score in 2008 was 10%. Yet at Cornell, the figure was already 33% by 2008. I think it would not be unreasonable to estimate that Cornell’s smartphone usage is about a year (and a bit more) ahead of the average trend, and I would bet that currently between 80% and 95% of students at Cornell have a smartphone.

The social implications of having a smartphone here are significant. To have the Internet at your fingertips is to have all the knowledge you need on demand about activities, people, or just random information in a conversation. It is also to check email, respond to messages, or to share videos. Since the social norm is to have one, and the students expect other students to have them, most things are done with a smartphone in mind. At Cornell, to not have a smartphone is to be technologically behind. The Red Queen analogy comes to mind: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The “Superhuman” Extension

I resisted getting a smartphone for a long time because I thought (1) having a laptop was sufficient, and (2) not having a smartphone brought more peace of mind. However, the utility gained from having one far outweighs the silence of not having one. I can check my email at any time, look up anything I want, and a few weeks ago in NYC for an interview, I used it as a GPS.

There is an interesting article by John D. Sutter from CNN Tech last September, which is titled, “How Smartphones make us Superhuman.” It obviously makes the case supporting them. An excerpt:

In addition to enabling us to video events on a second’s notice, potentially altering the course of global politics, these high-tech human “appendages” increasingly have become tools for fighting corruption, buying stuff, bolstering memory, promoting politics, improving education and giving people around the world more access to health care.

While I don’t use the smartphone for any political reasons as Sutter might admire, I find it invaluable as a college student to be able to access information from anywhere. In classes, I still use my laptop as it is faster to type things, given that it is set up. But on the go, and for other occasions, using a laptop is impossible. It may sound strange, but without the Internet, I would feel disconnected from the world.

In fact, last May, my laptop broke down and would not even get to the boot menu. While it was being repaired (for about a month), I had no immediate Internet connection for the first time in years, and it felt that something was deeply missing. I had to go to the school libraries multiple times a day, and I would be there at odd hours. (Though, I did manage to write a 23-page math paper saved between various emails and flash drives.) Not having a computer was certainly survivable, but at a huge inconvenience.

Similarly, for a smartphone it is obvious that anyone can survive without having one. However, the productivity, convenience, time-efficiency, and omniscience are clearly worth it for any student living in 2013.