When Roommates Were Random-
EAGER to throw off my nerdy past and reinvent myself at college, I wrote “party animal” on my roommate application form where it asked incoming freshmen whether they wanted to bunk with a smoker or a non-smoker. When I told my mother about this later, she laughed and bought me a T-shirt that sported the image of Spuds MacKenzie, the 1980s Budweiser beer mascot, under the words “the original party animal.
I ended up with Tony from Sacramento, a very quiet, Republican son of a judge. (I suppose it’s good policy to separate the party animals from those who request them.) I learned to appreciate his taste in music (U2 and The Smiths, as opposed to my predilection for reggae and jazz), and we agreed to disagree about politics during the reelection campaign of Alan Cranston, then one of the most liberal members of the United States Senate. I had never met anyone like Tony. And I’m pretty sure he hadn’t come across many half-Jewish, Democratic children of New York artists. We learned to get along that first year at Berkeley, and every now and then even tried on each other’s values and beliefs, just to see how they fit.
Today I am a college professor, and I am sad that most of my students will not experience what I did back when Mark Zuckerberg was in diapers. While the Internet has made it easy to reconnect with the lost Tonys of our lives, it has made it a lot more difficult to meet them in the first place, by taking a lot of randomness out of life. We tend to value order and control over randomness, but when we lose randomness, we also lose serendipity.