1990s-Now: Taylor enters the Information Age - The Echo News
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1990s-Now: Taylor enters the Information Age

Part 5 of our "100 Years" series

By David Adams (’15) | Echo

Merely two decades ago, a crucial part of Taylor’s campus was missing.

No, it was not Wengatz. Odle Arena and the Hodson Dining Commons had been built. The Rice Bell Tower already represented the integration of faith and learning, and the Life Together Covenant guided students’ lives in community at Taylor.

In fact, the absent detail was not a physical structure at all. Yet today, it affects nearly every aspect of life at Taylor.

The Internet was the missing piece. Until 1993, the Taylor community had little knowledge of the “World Wide What?”, as one columnist for The Echo named it in 1997.

Yet its arrival would mark the beginning of a new era at Taylor.

The Internet Arrives

“(The) Internet will help Taylor students and faculty alike have quick access to information and news from across the country. . . .” began an article by Jason Huff, writing for his Basic Reporting class and published in the Nov. 12, 1993, edition of The Echo.

According to Huff, 1993 was the first year any part of campus was online. Access was limited, and the technology was an enigma for most students and faculty.

After all, the Internet was invented only a decade before. The “official birthday of the Internet,” according to the University System of Georgia, was Jan. 1, 1983.

But the first Internet service providers (ISPs) and the first World Wide Web page did not arrive until 1990 and 1991, respectively, according to Six Revisions’ timeline of Internet history.

Around that time, Taylor was first joining the online era, Huff reported. BITNET, a precursor to the World Wide Web, was installed on campus in 1991.

Colleges across the country used the rudimentary network to share research, according to Living Internet.

The installation of Internet access in 1993 opened up vistas of opportunity for Taylor students and faculty.

Access was limited at first, and students could only use the Internet in labs located in the Reade Center, Zondervan Library and Nussbaum Science Center, according to The Echo. But by the 1996 school year, the Internet phenomenon was beginning to catch on.

Questioning the Internet’s Expansion

Campus Editor Amy Meyering wrote in the Nov. 15, 1996, Echo that Randall, the Boyd Building and Grounds Complex and Odle Arena each had Internet access. Maintenance staff began using Web to streamline their work.

Meanwhile, the men of Fourth Gerig were setting up their own floor network for file-sharing and email, Meyering reported.

The men built the network from telephone line saved from the trash as well as donated modems and other equipment, hoping to connect their network to the Internet through a local ISP.

By end of the school year, Taylor buzzed with excitement over the Internet, and students adopted it for academic research.

The need for the Internet had clearly grown. “Everyone agrees that Web access points for students must be increased,” wrote Editor Deonne Beron in the May 2, 1997, edition.

Yet students and faculty alike voiced concerns about how the Internet would affect Taylor life. Some students and many administrators favored continuing to limit access to public labs.

Dean of Students Walt Campbell feared students would give in to temptations the Internet proffered, particularly if students had individual connections in their rooms.

One of Campbell’s biggest concerns was student access to pornography. “I’m not willing to just say ‘whatever will be will be,’ and deal with the consequences like addictions later,” Campbell told Beron.

A letter written by five male students sent to then-President Jay Kesler said “the average Taylor male” could not resist such temptation. Many students also feared the erosion of Taylor’s intentional community.

An open forum was held to discuss these issues. Many of the same concerns were raised, but students also acknowledged the benefits of the Internet, according to Joylane Bartron, writing for the May 16, 1997, issue.

Director of Information Services Art Mahan said a filtering program would help students avoid questionable content, but noted the program “was not your complete answer.”

Evidently, the forum satisfied the administration that students were aware of the freedoms — and responsibilities — Internet access in the residence halls would necessitate.

A ‘Port per Pillow’

In July 1997, the President’s Council decided each student should have an access port in his or her dorm room, Meyering reported for the front page of the Sept. 5, 1997, Echo.

Taylor would join more than half of U.S. universities in providing one Internet “port per pillow,” as Beron termed it, in the fall of 1998.

The Echo documented the progress of connecting each hall and room to the Internet over the coming months.

Students acknowledged the financial cost of maintaining the new technology, which was estimated at $700,000, as Meyering reported in a February 1998 edition.

Campus Editor Jessica Barnes wrote in March 1998 that installation would be completed during the summer. Mahan said he believed it was one of the largest and fastest projects Taylor ever undertook, spanning 18 months from conception to completion.

The arrival of individual Internet access in each hall changed Taylor forever, but not in the ways people feared.

A survey was conducted by the sociology department, Associate Editor Kendra Beutler (then Lightfoot) and Campus Editor Mike Schueler reported in several editions, in the fall of 1998. The survey noted “no significant change in Taylor’s spiritual life as a result of Internet usage.”

Sociology professor Steve Bird, who conducted the survey with one of his classes, voiced his excitement that the Internet had arrived.

“Actually, I don’t see the (Internet) as a great threat to the campus; I see it as an opportunity,” Bird told Beutler.

Beutler, a junior at the time Internet was installed in each hall, now acknowledges: “It was a different world in those two years.”

Now, of course, the Internet streams wirelessly on Taylor students’ laptops, iPads and cell phones. Its evolution is far from complete, but the Internet is becoming more integrated into everyday campus life.

It remains to be seen how the Web will continue changing—and changing Taylor—in the next 100 years.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our “100 Years” series, which was originally published during Homecoming on October 19, 2012. View the other parts by clicking the links below.

Part 1 — 1913-1930: The Echo: ahead of its time

Part 2 — 1930s-1950: Taylor’s accreditation—a Rediger accomplishment

Part 3 — 1950s-1970: Taylor and the Vietnam War

Part 4 — 1970s-1990: Honoring a trustworthy voice

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