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Undergrads make their homes on the Internet
Give a student 20 megabytes of cyberspace and a few hours' respite from the rigors of Chicago coursework and get out of the way.

From the telephone to the Internet, each generation of Chicago students has encountered a new form of technology. Most recently, the digital era has given College undergrads a novel means of self-expression-the personal home page.

The University provides students with free 20 megabytes of digital space to create their own Web sites. Available since 1995, the service was initially operated by students. Today, the University's Networking Services and Information Technology group administers a central server, which currently supports 2,398 personal Web pages for students, faculty, and staff. Recent graduates can maintain their sites up to two quarters after graduation.

Students are allowed to post almost any content they wish, according to Therese Nelson, associate director of Campus Networked Information Services. Most undergraduates create Web sites for pleasure, revealing interests that range from family photos to everything-you-want-to-know-about-Descartes. The University does draw the line at money-making ventures, which threaten its tax-exempt status. For example, Laura Bates, AB'00, a biology and psychology concentrator, initially sold handmade dolls from her site but had to move her commercial page, www.smalldolls.ccom, to a non-University location. She now has a link to that site from her home page, (Students often post links to non-University Web sites, allowing readers access to more information about personal interests or hobbies discussed on their home pages.)

With help from fellow students, Bernice Yin-Jee Man, AB'00, created her home page,, as a way to learn about the Internet. "When I found out that all U of C students could make their own home page, I thought I would give it a try. And it seemed like a great way for people to get to know me without necessarily having to meet me in person," says Man, an economics concentrator whose site has prompted e-mail inquiries from prospective College students.

Robert Voyer, a third-year studying French literature, says he created his Web page to share his music, which he describes as "melodicfolkrockpop," with friends and family.

"I want to show the things that say something about me, that mean something to me-music and family and so on," says Voyer, who is managing his site from the University's study-abroad program in France. "When I first started posting my music, my twin sister who goes to Cornell was the only regular visitor, but now that I am in Paris I think my friends and roommates in Chicago may be checking it out too."

Jenny Orrico, a fourth-year political science concentrator, says her page,, is intended purely to entertain her best friend, who attends the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "I included things that interest her-people, books, et cetera, and links-which I thought she would enjoy. I wanted to create something that would give her something to giggle at," says Orrico.

Some students leave personal information off their sites, designing home pages as art. Jesse Mintz-Roth, a fourth-year concentrating in public policy and geography, uses his page,, as a gallery to share his photography with friends from all over the world. His pictures range from images of radishes in a Viennese market to a Chicago sunset to friends in Hungary.

"Making a photo gallery Web page is sort of fun. It's not as worrisome as making a home page because you don't have to worry about unsolicited viewers seeing private information," says Mintz-Roth. "If unsolicited viewers see my photos, that's great. In fact, acquaintances have approached me based on my Web site alone and asked me to enter entrepreneurial ventures with them as a Web designer. I've gotten lots of positive feedback on the pictures as well."

Fourth-year Arash Rebek says designing an interactive page gives him an artistic thrill. Because he also designs Web sites for private organizations such as Scripps Research Institute and Personal Chemistry, he has not recently updated his site,, which features a movie that will change in January.

"I don't trust that the information I see on the Internet is factual. And if you look at my site, there is interaction, but you don't actually learn that much about me per se," says Rebek, a fundamentals concentrator who values the Internet less as an information resource and more as a potential home for art. "I do think that there are open-minded people who will pause as they do in a museum when they come across a well-designed site…. Many companies have sites that would impress even the most haughty artist with the felicity of their colors or their juxtaposition of text and image."

Elliott Brennan, a fourth-year concentrator in the Committee on Visual Art, views any student's site as a form of self-expression. "And it seems like there are two ways of doing it. There are the people who spend a lot of time putting things they've created online, and then there are the people who make lists of what they like in terms of music or movies or whatever. But it seems like either way, the purpose is just to give an idea of yourself to a broad, completely unknown audience," Brennan says. His site,, contains a pulsating grid of colors with an e-mail link.

To meet a variety of other students online, visit the home page list at - Jennifer N. Leovy, AB'90



  > > Volume 93, Number 2

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First Chair
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Burden of Proof
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  > > A University's Lexicon
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