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Acquiring intellectual capital

I was born just a few minutes from the Delaware River, on the good side – Pennsylvania to those who know – and so I feel perfectly justified in dumping on New Jersey all I want. Lately this El Niño-infected weather has given me the very small amount of justification I require. Sure, Fitzgerald once wrote that Princeton rises like a green phoenix out of the state my friends back home call "the armpit of America." Nonetheless, the poison mist that seems to have taken up permanent winter residence has transformed even our fair Gothic university into something resembling Hamlet's Elsinore, and not the Hall of Mirrors/Palace of Versailles version in the Kenneth Branagh movie. I mean a dismal medieval castle, suitable for dark broodings and cancers of the spirit.

My personal dark broodings have usually centered on the future, how and whether I'll fit into it. Time magazine selects Intel's Andrew Grove as its Man of the Year and pronounces that the future is a silicon thing, microchips and networks and information. That's the key to the future – information, the intellectual capital that pilots the economy – and possessing the right kind of information will decide the winners and losers of the next millennium.

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Why does this reality worry me so? Why do I read a foreboding fate in the pixels of my computer screen?

Family dinners and other forms of slow torture over Christmas break gave my relatives ample opportunities to pepper me with questions about the "Princeton experience." I figured they really didn't want to hear about the time I spent a purgatorial evening in TI stone sober, so I limited my responses to the academic.

Eventually the interrogation would turn to future major plans, and I would always answer, "I'm probably going to study English and creative writing," except to the relatives I didn't like, to whom I would respond, "I'm going to major in the occult arts with a certificate in Norwegian." My stated desire to study the humanities would be invariably followed by a soft, "Oh, I see," and a twisted, sympathetic nod of the head like you'd give a child who has a terminal illness but doesn't know it yet. The relatives I didn't like would just back away slowly.

I've been fortunate enough to have great roommates, but since all of them are hard-science types, I get the impression that they have less than zero respect for what I study. One, an engineer, delights in telling me that I'll be working for him one day. He usually says this right after he's spent the last four hours killing a physics problem set while I've been flipping though The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

Well, I'll see you in hell first, Dennis, but that's beside the point. I feel as though I should justify my education and my information. In our capitalistic society, justification is measured in hard currency, just like everything else. After I've graduated some time in the next millennium, I'll be in debt, if not up to my eyeballs, then at least somewhere around my elbows or mid-torso region. Maybe I'd be able to quell this information age anxiety if I could quote a piece of information for every dollar I'll have to pay Old Nassau. Let's see.

I've learned to tell the subtle difference between battery acid and 'Street' beer. That should be worth at least 99 cents and a cool Nassau Hall keychain.

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I suppose it's a bit early in my Princeton life for these apprehensions. I probably shouldn't be allowed to inflict pseudo-senior angst on anyone for a few years yet. Still, post-holiday, pre-exam depression and sickly Elsinore air makes for gloomy musings, the little winter despair that creeps into the bones in the dead month of January. I could sure use some snow, or at least a sharp cold snap to clear up the air and my head, so I can get back to acquiring the intellectual capital equivalent of Atari stock.

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