OPINIONS

Choice for Three “Books” disappointing

As announced recently, the Three Books Discussion for incoming freshmen will feature Chuck Klosterman’s memoir “Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota,” the DVD documentary “My Kid Could Paint That,” and the suite of “Smule” smartphone applications. Associate professor of music Mark Applebaum, who selected the works, said these “texts” are intended to motivate students “to ask broader questions about where art is made, what art is important and who should decide.” While we at the Editorial Board believe that encouraging students to think critically about art is a fine goal, we are disappointed with the selection of a smartphone application suite: not only does it alienate a significant fraction of the incoming freshmen, it strays too far from the purpose of the Three Books program.

Three Books is designed to introduce students to the intellectual atmosphere found at Stanford. Yet we wonder if the inclusion of an app suite will prompt this desired effect. This is not to say that tactile learning is not useful under any circumstances. Rather, we have trouble pinpointing the intellectual potential of a set of apps that lets you autotune your voice or play an Ocarina. Even if the smartphone apps do showcase an intellectual component, will incoming students draw the appropriate conclusions? With three physical books, readers have considerably more time and space to reflect on various themes, drawing broader conclusions that link the texts. With one book, one movie, and one application suite, we doubt that the intertext connections will be as deep, particularly given that students are unlikely to spend more than 20 minutes with the apps and that the app suite will not be distributed until the chaos of New Student Orientation (NSO). At most, then, we believe the application suite should have been included as a fourth selection, perhaps as a supplement to a text drawn from the literature on “prosumers,” defined as average consumers who also produce high-quality art, often through the use of digital software.

Most of all, owning a smartphone should not be a prerequisite to participate in the Three “Books” program. Even if Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) works out the logistics of creating a website that hosts the apps over the summer, five of the seven apps make prominent use of a touchscreen, a feature on only a few laptops and personal computers. Anyone relying on this website will therefore have an inferior experience. Even though UAR promises to make smartphone devices available for checkout during NSO, the organizers have nevertheless implicitly created a classist norm for incoming students – that of owning a smartphone. This is a troubling standard, as there is a sizeable portion of incoming students that will not own such a device for financial, personal or other reasons. These students will be made to instantly feel different (and likely inferior) for not owning what amounts to a luxury device that few Stanford students truly need. Despite UAR’s best intentions, the message this selection sends will inevitably lead to feelings of exclusion during a time when the administration should be focused on smoothing the college transition for students from all socioeconomic classes.

In short, we hope that Applebaum and UAR will make the smartphone application suite an optional fourth “text” and in its place send students a text – which need not be literary – that offers more opportunity for intellectual engagement. This is the Class of 2016’s first exposure to Stanford intellectual life, and the Three Books organizers should do everything in their power to make sure this opportunity is not wasted. In addition, this replacement text should be something that all incoming students can fully appreciate. One of the points of pride of the Three Books program is providing the texts free of charge so that students from all financial backgrounds can equally participate. Including the smartphone application suite breaks from this ideal, and we hope UAR does everything in its power to promptly remedy the situation and send a more inclusive message to incoming students.

About Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board is chaired by President and Editor in Chief George Chen, who is joined by Executive Editor Marshall Watkins, Managing Editor of News Catherine Zaw, Managing Editor of Sports Do-Hyoung Park and Managing Editor of Opinions Winston Shi. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at eic@stanforddaily.com.
  • Celine

    I think it offers a pretty cool point that technology and art do not need to be mutually exclusive.  It’s kind of a different perspective than is commonly offered. 

    Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley. While this is definitely only a small part of what the school has to offer, I don’t think it’s crazy to have one book out of three speak to this.

    On the other hand, we definitely wouldn’t want owning a smartphone to be any sort of prerequisite for participating in the program.  Since the suite will be offered during NSO, it’d be cool if dorms offered a smartphone or tablet in the dorm clusters – just like they offer computers for students who don’t have their own.    

  • ND

    That would be a better model, but it still provides privileged access to individuals who are wealthy enough to own smartphones.

  • AntiSlice

    I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with the Daily this much before.

  • Freshmen RA 2012-13

    I’m disgusted by Stanford’s choice.  I think the apps would make a great supplementary/option choice, fine.  But as one of the Three Books?  I’m sure part of the point was to inspire controversy (at least, I hope so, lest I have no faith left in Stanford at all) that an app can be a text.  And I’m not saying it can’t be.  But it shouldn’t be a part of the 3 Books.  Most of us end up talking, seriously or not so, about apps at some point anyway.  Why repeat that instead of exposing freshmen to three new books?  I’m really, really sad that this is going to be 2016’s first glimpse at “intellectual” life at Stanford.  And I thought the pro-war books were bad last year…

  • http://twitter.com/PeterMGunn Peter McDonald

    I think it says a whole lot about the intellectual atmosphere at
    Stanford if a DVD commentary and some iPhone apps are now considered
    “books.” I’m all for broadening the definition of what is considered art
    or literature, but don’t call them books. That’s insulting. Also, I
    like Chuck Klosterman, but he is not scholarly material. You might as
    well assign the Hunger Games. This after the decision that 3 quarters of
    reading books is just too much for our precious fragile engineering
    freshmen. Just cut the foreplay and start dismantling the humanities
    department already. The official cultural downfall of America begins
    now.

  • Lilliana

    i think that’s a little extreme… i’m an incoming freshman, and although i don’t see how an app suite could invoke the level of questioning and discourse that a book could, i’m refraining from condemning UAR’s decision on the grounds that perhaps, as suggested above, it is not the apps suite itself that is meant to elicit responses, but rather the accessibility to it. Additionally, i don’t know much about the app suite, but the apps don’t seem to be incredibly complex; maybe they’re trying to draw out an inherent statement about the evolution of art, its fusion with technology, and how heavily it relies on perspective… that’s my guess.

  • Guest

    As a student who is economically disadvantaged, this SUCKS!!! I went through my whole freshman year without a computer.  My grades suffered, the whole dorm had “friendly jokes” about how I lived in the computer cluster, i often didnt get to my own bed until 5 am, couldn’t check my email regularly, and it all around sucked.  It will not be fun to be that kid that has to borrow the dorm tablet or smartphone or laptop or whatever.  this is depressingly discriminatory and I am actually livid that someone would think it is okay to marginalize new students in this way.

  • Anon

    But is it weird that my friends on full financial aid have smart phones… and I, being not on financial aid, doesn’t. They should just give everyone iPods. 

  • Dmattes

    Best thing I’ve read from the Daily in four years of this school.

  • Guest

    What a joke. For once I agree entirely with Peter McDonald, a set of smartphone apps will never be “books”. This entrepreneurial start-up bs is pervasive enough as it is around here without this

  • goingglacial

    Yes, this is completely pathetic. But rather than decry Professor Applebaum’s intent and decision-making, we should, instead, engage in productive discussion about the tech buzz/start-up/rat race culture that has, by now, pervaded every nook and cranny of this fine institution. Look to the recent New Yorker article on the interface–or lack thereof–between Stanford and the Silicon Valley for proof enough. What sort of education/educational environment do we imagine for ourselves here? Let’s not kid ourselves; Stanford’s is hardly an intellectual culture. If anything, we are a highbrow “vocational” school, training our best and brightest, not for work in hard science or the humanities that could quite possibly help to improve the quality of human life, but to keep stoking a web boom that produces, for lack of better description, luxury goods. I do think that incoming freshmen should read intellectual, literary works. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if Stanford culture is oriented in a completely different direction.

    Thanks for publishing this article.

  • PGF

    I agree 100%.  A smartphone is no casual purchase–they run at around $100+ and generally require a 2-year contract that is around $40/month. 

  • Skeptic

    I completely agree. Mark Appelbaum is a crazy and quirky guy. That is great but I don’t think that we should push that to the larger Stanford community. The greatest things, the core values of humanity have stood the test of time and the progress of man has not changed those things — the spirit of pursuing purpose and finding meaning in this world. I find that these works completely miss the mark. I wish Mark would look beyond his own interests.

  • Guest

    This must be a joke…

  • jaqueh

    only regarding the issue about availability of smartphones, I think that the issue about not everyone having a smartphone is akin to a decade ago when people harped about requiring students to have access to a laptop either to write in class or to do some required assignment on a computer. Smartphones are becoming as common as laptops on college campuses now.

  • Bothered

    That almost anything can be called a text–or a ‘language’ unto itself–is not a new idea and is well worth thinking about. For instance, Stanford might want to think about how its insistence on promoting the language of technology and entrepreneurship implicitly squeezes out other languages and forms of communication and even whole groups not represented in the upper-middle and upper class from campus dialogue, representing a pernicious centralizing force that harms a diverse campus culture.

  • Samantha

    As an English major at Stanford (’11), one of my favorite English Lit classes was “Lady Sings the Blues: Blues, Literature, and Black Feminism.” Course materials ranged from movies to plays and included jazz recordings and, of course, fantastic novels. I am the first to support a multi-media approach to the humanities, and I truly believe that this approach can be phenomenal. One of the reasons I feel that course in particular was so successful is that our instructor, Danielle Heard, did not sideline the importance of literature in the least; rather, she kept the spotlight on books while simultaneously highlighting the relevance and gravity of other media. I wish that the Three Books program had found a way to do the same. In calling it the “Three Books” program and including only one book in the selection, the UAR has already failed. While I  love the new concept and the intentions behind it, I feel that the approach is painfully flawed. It is disheartening for an app suite or a film to *take the place* of a “book,” and it is disturbing that the UAR assumes that every frosh without a smartphone would feel comfy checking one out (let alone have the time during NSO). I was one of those students who didn’t have a smartphone until junior year, and I was also one of those students who was so excited to receive 3 physical books in the mail before my first fall quarter. I definitely would have found this interpretation of the Three Books program to be pretty alienating and disappointing. However, I would have found a version that offered three physical books in addition to optional multi-media materials to be much more inclusive, welcoming and thought-provoking. I love change, and I think this particular change has a lot of potential. I just wish it had been executed more thoughtfully, and with a little more respect toward the literary field and the incoming class.

  • Andrew Chou

     Stanford should make each upcoming freshman student get a Macbook Pro (3000 dollars) and discuss the design aspects of the laptop

  • Not an RA

    Yeah they were as pro-war as you can get…especially that book about the civil war where the protagonist was a religious pacifist. Down with all those religious pacifists, they are just pro-war! I hope your freshman next year get your great insights about art too!

  • Guest

    As a musician and Stanford entrepreneur, I love the idea of encouraging freshman to think about experimental art.  But that’s not what this does. It instead gives the impression that entrepreneurship is all that matters to Stanford (something that, even if true, needs to change), and that there’s no room for much else.  Trust me, nobody at Stanford is going to think “oh, there’s not much of a techie culture here” if they get three books in the mail.  Many of us came to Stanford instead of places like MIT because we wanted some traditional education as well, and because we were tired of east coast elitism.

    And, of course, it gives incoming freshmen different experiences based on their economic background, which is just ridiculous.

    I’m confident that the UAR will do the right thing and add a book, making the iPhone apps supplemental instead.

  • Meltinthemicebergs

    Yes, it is a great tragedy that education became low brow and secular hundreds of years ago. Instead of simply doing theology and ignoring the problems of the world, schools have insisted on doing things like studying people and teaching ways to build stuff. Why do we allow such practices to flood our once great halls? I’m surprised you got so many likes for saying that Stanford is a vocational school. Pray, do tell, when was the last time you visited a vocational school? Also, I wonder, what sort of conversation we would have about the tech buzz/start up/rat race culture? It appears that internet companies have only overhead cost and no production costs once a product is made, other than management salaries, and so they are able to create huge profits. The issue here at stake is whether or not Stanford cares to include the poor students that it entices to come here with offers of financial aid. Unless they are providing smart phones to students, I can’t see how this can be construed as anyway other than offensive. For students who are coming here from underprivileged backgrounds, it would probably be a great opportunity to work at one of these “luxury good production companies.” Unfortunately, not all students can simply stay at home with their parents enjoying new technologies and reading intellectual literary works; for those of us that need jobs, having connections with the local economy is a good thing for a University to have.

  • Guest

    Nobody reads the Three Books anyways. I only got halfway through Oscar Wao before gave up on that unreadable piece of crap.

  • Guest

    Here is the link to Julie Lythcott-Haims’ response, published in the June 7 edition: http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/06/07/op-ed-uar-addresses-concerns-over-three-books-selection/

  • Freshmen RA 2012-13

    Me too.  My hope is that we can go point to point on every issue.  My thoughts on war or art are by far not my most controversial.

  • john

    All incoming freshmen are getting an iPhone. It’s real. 

  • eech1234

    >perhaps, as suggested above, it is not the apps suite itself that is meant to elicit responses, but rather the accessibility to it 

    I think you’re overthinking it, Lilliana.  Not every action has as deep a meaning as the average literary classic.  Usually these things are oversights.

  • Lane

    This is such a beautiful comment. As another commenter said, it sucks to have “friendly jokes” about living in the computer cluster. I know I shouldn’t care, but that I have a cheap laptop is kind of embarrassing for me when I am sitting in a lecture surrounded by expensive computers. The idea of renting a phone during NSO is cute, but entirely unrealistic. It is missing the point entirely.