Choosing Roommates: Opening choices, or closing doors?

When I was in university, I had to share my hostel room with someone picked at random. I was quite lucky that my roommate turned out to be a great person to be with, a person of rather different tastes, but someone who helped me expand my horizon of thought. Not everybody is as lucky, I know.

So today we have websites like URoomSurf (or Facebook applications like RoomBug) that let you pick your college roommate (right now, applicable only to the US). How it works is that you create a profile for yourself, indicating the college you are joining, your study habits, your political preferences, your messiness quotient (i.e. whether you are a cleanliness and orderliness freak, or you’re the type that cannot find your underwear in the huge pile you call your possessions). You can then search people joining the same college, and find someone who matches your preferences. And then you write to the college, asking that he/she be allotted as your roommate. The catch is, the college may not agree.

The idea is clearly likely to catch on India. If your roommate turns out to be the local goon who got in through fabricated documents, has his henchmen install TV and other luxuries in the room and takes panga with the dean all the time, you’d certainly want to change your room. Or for that matter, the big bully who wants to do nuisance outside your door.

What would be the consequences? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says in her column:

The serendipity of ending up with roommates that you like, despite your differences, or can’t stand, despite your similarities, or grow to like, despite your reservations, is an experience that toughens you up and broadens you out for the rest of life.

Getting a roommate who is just like you can get rid of the many little tensions in your life (I remember my roommate and I had trouble over the window; he liked it closed all the time, I liked it open) so that you can focus on the books. But as Dowd writes, college isn’t just about life. That’s also where you get the first exposure to people of different natures, with whom you have to put up whatever happens. You get ready for bosses, colleagues, even spouses with whom you don’t agree all the time.

But this is a trend for the future. And with so much data on preferences stored in such databases, what an opportunity for targeted advertising!

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About ozymandias

What am I? A body and brain, products of carbon concatenation chemistry, an intelligence and conscience to enable bits of DNA evolve. Maybe a pharaoh, maybe a dung-beetle, never more than a safe conduit for some genes.
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