Our seminary had a lot of really bad rules. Like the one where they locked us in after 10pm to enforce curfew.
There was also the “no laptops” rule. They explained that they weren’t really against us having PCs, they just didn’t want to be responsible for theft from the dorm. So we shouldn’t bring any electronics worth stealing. The only electronics worth stealing they could think of were laptops. (This was the era before smartphones, but it wasn’t the era before discmans or PDAs or cell phones.)
I had a laptop because my parents bought me a laptop as a gift, not knowing the seminary rule. When I told them I wasn’t officially allowed to have a laptop in the dorm they looked confused and said, “Oh. Well.”
My laptop came in handy not just for me but for the entire seminary on more than a few occasions. There were five cranky old desktops for an entire school of 66 students to type their papers on. The night before our reports were due, Connie (short for “contraband”) was the most popular girl in the dorm. Students lined up for a chance to tickle her keyboard.
For myself, she was a lifeline. I’m not a talking person. I much prefer writing. So while my roommate was on the phone with her mother three times a day (I counted. I swear I’m not exaggerating), I would spend the time typing extensively detailed letters home. My parents would print them out as Shabbos afternoon reading, and sometimes my sister would read the more exciting snippets to her seminary-bound friends.
Right now, those letters fill to bursting a 3” binder, which is either testament to my dedication to my parents, or witness to my adolescent self-absorption.
But how did I get those letters home, you may ask. I had no printer and there was obviously no wifi in the dorm.
I am very old. This all occurred before every coffee shop had wifi. Wifi hot-spots were rare, but all magazines and newspapers agreed that the trendy, city of the future would be blanketed in free wifi. They printed pictures of digital cityscapes showing young urban professionals congregating around laptops on the steps of neoclassical buildings and in lush green parks.
Who wouldn’t want to be the trendy, futuristic, city? Not Jerusalem.
So here is how I got my emails out: I would walk around downtown near the municipal building, my laptop in my outstretched arms, watching the wifi signal ebb and grow, desperately searching for a spot where it was strong enough to use. Ben Yehuda mall was another hot-spot location. I could send emails and download city maps while the NaNachs danced nearby. Alternatively, if the weather was bad, I’d buy some time at the internet café in the Central Bus Station.
I wasn’t the only one. You met a lot of seminary girls and yeshiva guys in the internet café. What were we all doing there? We were planning trips and weekends, communicating with friends and family, and catching up on news from sources that weren’t the Israeli Hamodia.
At some point, the seminary realized that their students were heading to the parts of the city they specifically didn’t want them going to, at all the wrong hours of the night, just to send emails. Or maybe enough parents complained. Either way, they set up a computer with a desktop-based email application that students could pay a subscription fee to use. It was crudely executed; emails weren’t private. But I signed up. It was well-worth avoiding the trip downtown.
Also, I didn’t actually use the email application.
Although the internet was password protected, and the modem was through the wall in a locked room, the desktop tower was not. This meant that the Ethernet cable was readily accessible. And Connie had an Ethernet port.
I started waking up a 6am just to creep down to the computer, steal the Ethernet cable, and plan trips. Ask my friends: they were fantastic. I was able to downloads reams of historical information about every place we visited, and could carry on like a tour guide as we traveled.
I wonder what they do today. Is it still possible to ban laptops and internet access?