Smart athletics, misunderstood Institute.

An interesting article from yesterday’s Globe about an MIT olympic hopeful [mirrored here]. Basically, he’s got his crew shell all pimped out with sensors and readouts that help him train. It makes sense, and it’s pretty cool.
However, sadly, this is one of the few types of stories about MIT that ever get run in the newspapers: Whiz kids! Gadgetry! Nanotechnology! Those crazy MIT people! I have yet to read an article in the press which achieves any sort of deeper understanding of what the Institute and its culture are all about. News stories instead tend to adopt an attitude of MIT’s otherness, something which can only be amplified by choosing people like this crew fellow, who finished Course VIII in 3 years and didn’t start rowing till he was 21. As awesome as MIT folks are, I suspect he may be a statistical outlier. For me, the meaning of the Institute does not lie simply in these exaggerated and easily-popularized examples of geek chic. It’s the people who are doing extraordinary things for no external reward other than perhaps a smile on someone else’s face: the reward is rather internal, the satisfaction of knowing you can do something incredible, and it comes out of a desire for expression, not accolades. That’s what the media misses: it’s not about the gold medal or the A+ or the CEO position (though those are sometimes pleasant side effects). It’s about reveling in the life of the mind and its astonishing, unexpected practical output, about art as Scott McCloud defines it (you’ll have to forgive me — I just finished Understanding Comics): it doesn’t get you girls, and it doesn’t increase survival; it’s individaul expression, plain and simple.
The upshot of this all is that the Globe should hire me to write MIT stories for ’em.


7 thoughts on “Smart athletics, misunderstood Institute.

  1. I think it’s rediculous to expect a journalist to have any comprehension of MIT or how to write an article displaying what MIT is really about. Some of the people who don’t get MIT: half the people in Baker, half the people in Burton Connor, half the people in New Next Simmons (and let’s not forget about freaking MacGregor), half the people on the East half, my best friends from home who know each and every story of my MIT career, my parents, half of grad students, and certainly more than half of the faculty.

  2. You should write their MIT stories for them, or for someone else. I wonder if you could freelance. In the mean time, preach it, sister. Preach it.

  3. Your comment about the life of the (scientific) mind being a life of expression really resonates with me. Science in all its forms should never be less than awing, since to feel otherwise is to take it for granted; to be a scientist, especially a scientist who both teaches and performs research, is to propagate that sense of awe. In some fashion I think that, for desiring nonbelievers like myself, this sort of feeling, as it attaches itself to all that is understood, replaces the sense of grace or love or at least intentionality that fills the world for a believer (and would be amplified through such work). And what’s left over that’s not covered by this feeling? Well, loose ends, conundrums… Mystery. I like that stuff.
    Bleh, I dunno. The above is pretentious fuckwittery. However, I tend to think of religious parallels to science before any others. I grew up thinking that science was essentially monasticism in every aspect except the presence of God – poverty, diligence, obedience to reality, service of truth, and so on; so that’s what I prepared for. Little did I know…

  4. Don’t wait for the Globe to hire you. I’d like to read your MIT stories now. If nothing else, you could add some entries to the Random Hall history page.

  5. Look, Sis – you know how I got motivated upon the third sex scandal at the Legislature and just sat down and wrote it, then halved it, then sent it, then got it back, then cut it again, then sent it to another…and have waited and waited without response despite an inquiry I made Thursday?
    Well, that’s what you should do: you are the better writer, for one thing; and you are over-bursting with significant insights about things you care about. Do write something and submit it – to the Globe,* and just sit back and wait.
    * Identify one of the editors that covers the kind of feature you wish to submit and make a call (AFTER you have the article done) to ask for whatever fashion of receipt s/he prefers – FAX or email file … and if the later, what format. SEND.
    ;-D you might end up with a JOB that is to your liking, eh!?

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