Laptop U

Has the future of college moved online?

The Disconnect

Few things are less welcome today than protracted solitude—a life style that, for many people, has the taint of loserdom and brings to mind such characters as Ted Kaczynski and Shrek. Does aloneness deserve a less untoward image? Aside from monastic seclusion, which is just another way of being together, it is hard to come up with a solitary life that doesn’t invite pity, or an enviable loner who’s not cheating the rules. (Even Henry David Thoreau, for all his bluster about solitude, ambled regularly into Concord for his mother’s cooking and the local bars.) Meanwhile, the culture’s data pool is filled with evidence of virtuous togetherness. “The Brady Bunch.” The March on Washington. The Yankees, in 2009. Alone, we’re told, is where you end up when these enterprises go south.

The Stutterer

It’s hard to describe the feeling of stuttering to anyone who has always spoken smoothly. It is not a nervous impulse. It is not, despite appearances, a spastic feeling. Stuttering starts in the voice box and the upper lungs with something like a pressure clench, the sensation of some valves closing against a flow, a trap tripping its release at the wrong moment. (John Updike described it11 as the feeling of “a kind of windowpane suddenly inserted in front of my face while I was talking, or of an obdurate barrier thrust into my throat.”) The clench occurs suddenly, irreversibly—in the final instant before beginning a sentence, in the middle of a phrase—making the experience of being a stutterer somewhat like the chronic knowledge that your clothes may explode off your body any moment.

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