A recent article in the Williams Record, the campus newspaper of Williams College, examines the dramatic increase in online buying among college students. It notes that under-25s are among the most frequent computer users and reminds us that credit cards now flood the mailboxes of younger and younger people, typically beginning in the early teens. Many students come home from their classes to multiple open browser windows, where emails from professors sit side by side with Facebook pages, the Wikipedia, and “special offers” from a favorite online store. Other students don’t even wait until they’re home. Their laptops accompany them to the classroom, wirelessly connected and ready to browse.
Several aspects of college life exacerbate this tendency. For one thing, thestudent years are often an emotional roller-coaster, and shopping is an equal opportunity, all purpose mood changer; lose a boy- or girlfriend, flunk an exam, feeling homesick—and many students find solace in an online spending spree. Another element is procrastination. After hours of grinding away at a paper or cramming for a test, the total engagement of online shopping is a seductive and all too common break. Most significant of all, perhaps, is “summer camp syndrome”: away from home and its sensible boundaries, students are prone to opt for excitement—and what’s more exciting than getting a package in the mail, its contents tailored to your fantasy?