Jonathan Horowitz, Office of Alumni Affairs

Honorable Mention

2016-2017 Staff Essay Contest


Dawn breaks. A lone rooster crows on a quaint Mercer County farm. Crickets chirp. An iPhone alarm chirps, too. Kids dive into their parents’ bed demanding hugs and gluten-free, sugar-free, non-GMO cereal with low-fat almond milk.

It’s morning at Princeton.

For six hours, a diligent group of soldiers has hunkered in the trenches of 701 Carnegie Center. Armed with fast fingers, encyclopedic minds, miked headsets, and ergonomic keyboards, they’re ready. Warriors on the frontlines of technology emergencies.

The first rays of daylight emerge. Work boots crunch through frost-laden fields. From chapped lips, puffs of chilled breath bounce with each crackly step. Gloved hands carry spools of wire up a ladder leaning against a massive outdoor tent. They’re ready. Architects of improvised event venues for University VIPs.

Glazed eyes reflect computer screen code. Clothed in the previous day’s stale business threads and perched at computers in varying time zones, the mission control team awaits the final command. Into the conference call void, a voice says, “Launch time.” A deep breath, then a click of a mouse. They’re ready. Pioneers on the frontier of digital innovation.

At home, John Q. Employee (his name changed to protect his identity) boots up his Princeton-issued laptop and peruses the news to prepare for the day’s inevitable uncomfortable political watercooler conversation. To drown out the news blues and turn that frown upside down, he cracks a couple eggs and cooks them sunny-side up; then pulls out his trusty tablet and jots down the day’s to-do list before it scrambles from his brain.

In the car, John’s iPhone recites urgent emails. He responds via Bluetooth – no texting while driving, of course – and feels confident that the dictation software won’t autocorrect him onto the unemployment line or mistakenly enter any inappropriate homophones. They’re always trying to work their way in there, though, huh?

Wheels roll down Route 1. The Dinky screeches into the station. Tires bounce on Nassau Street sidewalks. Feet skip through gothic archways.

The workday begins. It’s morning at Princeton.

John sits at his computer, fidgeting with paperclips, waiting for a web page to load. The wheel spins and spins. And he turns into Oscar the Grouch. “This network stinks!” Meanwhile, in another part of campus, a band of superhero computers is battling a legion of bots hell-bent on stealing Princeton data. A cyber-attack averted, John’s browser soon loads seamlessly, and he sends his blast email out on time, unaware of the myriad email addresses saved from a hacker’s harvest.

In need of fresh air and undeterred by 40-degree temperatures, John ventures to Whitman Courtyard, iPad in hand and ready to brainstorm a killer project plan. With a healthy Wi-Fi signal, he connects to his personal Princeton Google Drive and pounds out a winning strategy. Just a couple years earlier, John’s effort in the cavernous quad would have required ink and scroll. But thanks to a University-wide initiative to bring Wi-Fi to the great outdoors, John’s fresh air-fueled blueprints will never again require transcription from notepad to iPad.

Sauntering toward his office, John marches up the Blair Arch steps and spots a #Princetagram-worthy shot of Alexander Hall’s illuminated stained glass masterpiece. Desperate for Instagram fame and maneuvering on the stairs to frame his pic – his free hand fumbling to remove the iPhone from his pocket – John stumbles and drops everything. The iPhone, the iPad, an F-bomb. The expletive lands on innocent students’ ears. The iPhone lands face-up. The other Apple lands crisp on its display, shattered to the core. Shocked, John throws the device, the ape throwing the bone in the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This one bad Apple nearly spoils John’s whole lunch. But then he recalls the University’s mobile device loaner program. Using his salvaged smartphone, he searches the SN@P Knowledge Base, completes a form to borrow a tablet, and within minutes gets an alert that the loaner iPad is ready for pick-up at Frist.

After lunch, John’s campus tour continues with A/V testing for an upcoming keynote at McCosh 50 – the century-old, quintessential Princeton lecture hall retrofitted with all the essentials of a contemporary classroom. Mesmerized by the magical room controls, John tinkers with the lights and curtains. On, off, on, off. Open, shut, open, shut. Then the screen. Up, down, up, down. All through the simple touchscreen interface. Unfortunately, John does not follow the shutdown instructions, like turning off the projector. Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk. So when tonight’s featured lecturer arrives and is unable to get her laptop to display on the big screen, Mission Impossible music will cue up and an action hero will hurdle chairs and weave through students to replace the projector bulb with seconds to spare before the packed lecture’s onset.

Craving a caffeine jolt after a flurry of fiery email exchanges, John invites his colleague to Chancellor Green Café for an impromptu meeting. In need of computer files on his department’s server, John enters his encrypted credentials to connect through Secure Remote Access. Then the Duo prompt pops up for a second verification. John grumbles about the arduous tasks ahead: having to reach into his pocket, pull out his phone, unlock it, and approve the Duo access request – all within two minutes. The horror! Meanwhile, the opportunistic thief who found in a Manhattan cab an unsecure laptop left behind by another college’s employee has just hit the identity jackpot – a trove of student names, birthdays, and home addresses.

What are these mysterious forces that time and again save Princeton from unimaginable travesties, that create a connected environment throughout campus, that make John infinitely more productive and accessible, that shield him from unsavory chats with his supervisor about protecting Princeton property, and that aid in John’s ongoing quest for the perfect cat meme (please don’t tell his boss)?

Technology. It abounds at Princeton. Its presence is not always obvious – ironically, perhaps, because it’s ubiquitous. It’s the fiber of the University’s operation. Princeton and Princetonians cannot function without it.

And behind this spectrum of technology is an array of faces. Some who lay the groundwork – and wires – for its presence on campus. Others who support its sustained use. And more who explore ways to further its application so that Princetonians can thrive in the decades to come. Hard hats, silk scarves, golf shirts, bowties. There’s no standard uniform, save perhaps a smile. Like the technology itself, these faces often go unnoticed – unless something’s not working, of course. These warriors, these architects, these pioneers.

It’s the end of the workday.

John checks the TransLoc app. If he speed-walks, he’ll catch the Tiger Transit bus in stride. At the garage, he waves to the security cameras, arrives at his SUV, fumbles for his keys, and then spots them on the seat. He blurts out a word that dare not be repeated. But then, a light bulb. His trusty TigerCard – which recently replaced his brass building key – can get him back into his office, to his spare set of keys. And look at that, the TransLoc app shows another bus is about to arrive at the garage to bring him back up campus.

Dusk settles in. A black squirrel scurries down a barren tree. Crickets chirp. An iPhone alarm chirps, too. The kid’s diving meet that she’s been demanding John attend will not be parent-free after all. He looks up from the phone, content, and smiles at the woman across from him wearing a Princeton OIT jacket.

The workday begins. It’s evening at Princeton.