Surrounded by nerdy freshmen and stale air

11am, Physics Faculty, Bristol University

The smell in here is foul, evoking unpleasant memories of schoolboy changing- rooms. But then, all university computer rooms seem to smell like this, which may at least partly explain why so few female students will go anywhere near them. Sharing the stale air with me are three fairly typical inhabitants of such haunts - label them nerds if you wish. Sporting the mandatory heavy metal T-shirt, the one closest to me is mumbling gently to himself as he follows the debate on some obscure Usenet discussion group. Every so often he collapses in such sharply contrived laughter that I start to worry for his sanity. But one look at his glazed expression tells me he's okay. He's happy, he's escaping, he's oblivious.

Co-ordinated snuffles drift over from the far corner of the room, where the other two occupants are taking turns to type, in furious staccato bursts. Sending each other real-time messages via their computers (known to the connoisseur as "n-talking"), they can't be seated more than five metres apart. Verbal communication appears to be a somewhat passe activity for members of the nerd community - but what the heck, leave them be, they're having fun.

12.30pm, Central Computer Service Building

Within the grisly Seventies edifice of the main computer service lurks a slightly different odour. The smell of fear. The smell of essay crisis. Lining the bare blue walls are 40 hunched bodies, faces contorted with concentration as they battle against both the clock and a word processor from hell. The sullen young trendy to my left suddenly utters an agonised groan. "Where the hell's my essay gone?" he demands of no one in particular. A couple of fellow sufferers look up and briefly shake their heads in sympathetic resignation before returning to their screens. Head in hands, the trendy bashes away at the function keys forlornly. The score as I leave the depressingly familiar scene: Trendy 0, Microsoft Word 5.

2:30pm, Students' Union

Wandering down from lunch I log into the terminal in the foyer. Up flashes the coveted phrase: "You have new mail". First to appear is a message from my father, berating me for again forgetting my sister's birthday. The technology may have advanced, but the traditional parent/student hassle remains as unhealthy as ever. At least you can't be shouted at with e- mail. I have two other new messages. Steve, a PhD student in Brighton, has sent me a copy of a hilarious "Guide to the avoidance of sinful self- abuse" posted by some batty US evangelical group to high-school students in Milwaukee. In extreme cases they suggest that "the tying of one's hand to the side of the bed is a sure-fire protection against the Devil's call to nocturnal sin". Scary stuff indeed. I forward a copy to a friend studying theology.

My final new mail is a circular newsletter entitled "The Sch... news". Produced by an anti-Criminal Justice Act coalition, it contains details of the latest happenings within the activist scene. I hurriedly read through it, aware of my shameful inactivity. After dashing off a remorseful reply to my father, I quit and log out. Straight away my place is taken by an impatient French exchange student eager for news from home.

5:30pm, Engineering Building

My research has led me to believe that the engineering building is a good place to track down examples of the elusive Web surfer. I am not disappointed, for amid a gaggle of grubby Nirvana T-shirts I catch sight of a rare breed - a female surfer. She is busy downloading images of Massive Attack (a popular student band) found on their site somewhere out there in World Wide Web-land. The mouse darts as she selects a new page. Blurred and unrecognisable at first, an impressive technicolour image gradually swims into focus. Grabbing at one of the floppy disks strewn over her desk, a picture of three dudes wearing shades is captured for posterity. The picture in itself is completely useless - there's no chance of ever printing it out - but that's not particularly important. What is significant is that she has succeeded in downloading pictures from the Web - awesome, jaw-dropping stuff to the majority of students, who are still far more at home in a heaving bar than in a cybercafe.

11:15pm, A Hall of Residence

After the bar closes I meander over to the adjacent Hall, tap in a code and open the door to the tiny computer room. Ignoring the by now familiar aroma - it really does reek in here - I squeeze past the three top-of- the-range PCs and settle into a corner to observe. This place being a Mecca for the serious student nerd, it is bad form to be spotted messing around with the frivolous funky graphics of the World Wide Web when your screen could be filled with drab and unintelligible text. To my left sits Dave, his laptop plugged into a socket on the wall. Day or night (it makes little odds, the blinds are always shut), Dave is always in here. Intrigued by the hieroglyphics appearing on the laptop's display, I venture to inquire what exactly he is up to. Clearly shocked at my impertinence, he mutters a curt reply. "Nothing important." It rapidly dawns on me that my presence here is not welcome. This is his world, you see, and as we both know, the future belongs to him and the computers with which he is so comfortable.


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'