21 August 2008

Technology Note: Eternal September

As campuses prepare for students in the next couple of weeks, at least some of the folks in IT have a memory of Eternal September, which described the influx (and impact) of new users on computer networks. Across the 1980s, September on campuses meant arrival of newbies (new computer users) who disrupted the flow of communications on Usenet (think early Internet). As students learned the rules of Usenet, the system returned to normal. Of course, the cycle would begin again the next September.

It was in 1993 that the month became Eternal September: AOL opened the commercial portal to Usenet and newbies flooded the system. (The term Eternal September was actually coined in 1994, with a backward glance.) Internet pioneers bemoaned the activity by the raw beginners who knew no netiquette standards. By sheer numbers, Internet newbies overwhelmed the system for years. They outnumbered the experienced users for a decade or more (the timing is debated but typically set at 2003-2005). At that point, Internet users with at least a year's experience finally outnumbered the newbies and "acculturation" therefore occurred more quickly. Today, the ratio of experienced:newbie in the larger society's Internet finally looks more like the ratio that campuses saw on Usenet in the 1980s. Eternal September has ended.

Campus life continues to revolve around Septembers, though, and more departments than IT plan for and accommodate new students and faculty. There's not a function of higher education that doesn't involve new participants and their incorporation into a culture of practice (including institutional effectiveness and assessment). Luckily, the people hanging around campuses are energized by the start of the school year and they work hard to keep the Septembers short.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as legal or professional advice. Bold is the co-author of Reflections: Preparing for your Practicum or Internship, geared to college interns in the child, education, and family fields. She is a consultant and speaker on assessment, distance learning, and technology.

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