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Sep 26 2004 Kelly Norton

My adviser, John Maeda, keeps reminding me that the Media Lab is what you make of it. Some people treat it like a nine-to-five job, he explains, while others are permanent lab fixtures. I never remember the exact words, and each of the three or four times he's given me the little talk it has been different. There was, however, one word that is constant across each retelling. Opportunity. The Media Lab is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. First of all, MIT is teeming with smart people. And not just the “knows how your Xbox works” kind of smart, I'm talking “builds circuit boards to make your Xbox work differently as an expression of human freedom” smart. Second, you have access to the full course offerings of two of the world's best universities, MIT and Harvard. And not just “you can take them if you complete your required work” access either, I'm talking about “yeah, talk to so-and-so in the Drama department” access. In fact, the masters program in Media Arts and Science requires only one course, thesis preparation. Everything else is what would typically be referred to as an elective. Elective... what a great adjective.

But we are talking about the word opportunity and it's a noun. Though I just have to point out, opportunity is typically elective so I did not wander off course after all. And when you think about it, which is what graduate students are required to do, what is so bad about being off course? Surely, it isn't that silly fear of being lost. Stephanie spent the better part of a week driving around Boston lost and now I have to turn to her for directions to get anywhere other than MIT. I'm still lost in my Comparative Media Studies class. Professor Jenkins mentions big names in the theory of film, radio and television and everyone in the room nods knowingly. At first I tried to nod knowingly along with them, but I found it got in the way of the more essential response of writing down the name to explore later. Ah, explore there's another good word. In fact, MIT has this whole culture of exploration. There are clubs that look for hidden and obscure parts of buildings on campus, like the space below the steps on 77 Massachusetts Avenue. They apparently, pick locks, climb through ventilation ducts, avoid campus police and conduct themselves in all other manners of fearlessness to find and lay claim to these mysterious places. I suspect that's why I nodded knowingly in Henry Jenkins class for a while, fear. Being the dummy is a scary proposition. It always seems like the key to education is to know in advance what someone intends to teach you. The safest thing is to stick with what you know. That way as you become an even bigger dummy, you will amass a set of good grades to fool people into thinking you are brilliant.

Well, I am a dummy. I don't know as much about Media Theory as the folks in the Comparative Media program. But dammit, I'm going to know something about media theory pretty soon. I let fear drive me away from similar opportunities as an undergraduate, and that's a mistake I don't intend to repeat. The Media Lab is an opportunity and I have every intention of exploring all that this place has to offer, fearlessly.