BY MATT HUTCHINS
Even just passing the Gropius buildings, Woodrow could already tell that campus was unusually empty for the first day of class. He walked past the empty volleyball court and the tables in front of the Hark on his way to Austin without encountering anybody. As he entered the corridor between Langdell and Areeda he saw a girl he thought he recognized as a fellow 2L, but she busily charged through the double doors into Langdell before he could catch her attention. He noticed something strange about her from behind, an unusual distortion as though her head were enclosed in a bubble. Woodrow discounted it as an illusion created by the library doors and continued toward the rocky rear facade of Austin.
Woodrow climbed the creaky wooden steps from the basement and turned the corner to stop at the coffee station before entering class. The machine churned and hissed before spurting forth the steaming brown liquid to fill his mug. When he arrived in Austin West he saw, to his relief, that there were a few other students already there. He relaxed a little knowing he was in the right place and made his way down the steps to take a seat, about halfway down the room on the right side. He put on his interface gloves and media glasses, and once the visual display had synched up with his mobile device he launched his virtual desktop. A new message from Dean Lessig had arrived in his Harvard mail.
“Dear Class of 2020, It is with great pleasure that I announce the completion of the first step toward making HLS not just the best law school in the country, but the first Perfect law school in the world. The great success of the webcast classroom interface has been instrumental in our transition to unlimited enrollment this year for all second and third year classes. With openings unconstrained by limits on classroom seating, it is already possible for you to enroll freely in any course or attend remotely from whatever place you deem most comfortable.
“We are now proud to announce that every class will also be available through real-time replication in the online metaverse, Perfect Life. In addition to giving students a richer experience of the classroom, Perfect Life has allowed the law school to expand its course offerings to include lectures by almost every distinguished legal scholar in the country, including a spring seminar in administrative law by Justice Barack H. Obama ’91. These courses will be available exclusively in Perfect Life and only accessible to HLS students and cross-registrants from schools across the country. The registrar will be keeping you up to date on the new courses which will be available as we continue finalizing the expanded course offerings.
Students who need financial assistance to upgrade their electronic interface system should contact student financial services to arrange a technology grant.
Dean Lawrence Lessig”
Woodrow then noticed an e-mail from Professor Brewster:
“Hey everyone, I am not back on campus yet, so we will be having our first week of class in Perfect Life. RDB”
Woodrow closed the e-mail and looked around the room. Indeed, the time for class to start had already come and gone with no professor, and the other students appeared to be engrossed in their own business. Apparently class had already started in Perfect Life. He launched the metaverse interface, logged in and entered the domain for Brewster’s class. Now Professor Brewster appeared in the front of the room, discussing the readings which would be distributed electronically on a bi-weekly basis.
“Now I just want to let you know that I do plan on being in Cambridge soon, but will definitely be in Switzerland for the rest of the week for a conference. I was hoping to just take a quick vote to find out how many students plan to be back on campus by next week. If it doesn’t look like many of you will be there, I may go ahead and extend my trip and have class online only for the time being.”
A swooshing sound followed by a pop signaled to Woodrow that an e-mail had arrived, and he opened it to find a survey, on which he indicated that he had already returned to campus. Another sound notified him that a text message had arrived.
“Hey Woody, are you still in Brazzaville?” The message was from a section mate, Angelina.
“No, I came back already, but there’s almost nobody here. Where are you?””Still in Cali, but I’ve got Brewster’s class right now.”
“Yeah, I’m in there too.”
“Hey, why don’t you come sit with us.”
Woodrow followed Angelina’s link to a private domain. The space was a sunny plot of grass in a city park, and Angelina was laying on a large blanket with another section mate, Meg. Angelina was watching the Brewster lecture on a big floating display, while Meg was studying crossword puzzle on a clipboard.”
“Hey Woody, how are you doing? What was it like in Africa?”
Woody heard Angelina through his ear buds, and responded with text. “Great. I met so many really nice people there. I spent a lot of time in jungle villages, and it was amazing how people there are surviving through the epidemic. How was your summer at Donner & Regen?”
“Fantastic. They had so many great events for us, like this one weekend in Napa and another up at Tahoe. I loved it. Hey, come have a seat!”
Woodrow sat down on the blanket next to Angelina and focused his attention on the floating image of Professor Brewster, who was describing her paper for the conference on technology export limitations. Meg remained engrossed in her crossword. After a while he turned to Angelina and asked, “Hey, when are you guys coming back to Cambridge?” “Oh, I don’t know,” said Angelina. “It seems like it’s not even really crucial. I mean, now that the school has gone Perfect, I don’t think I really have to come back at all.”
Meg looked up briefly. “I’m already back, but only because I have a clinical.””So, Angelina, are you staying with your folks?”
“No, I had an apartment for the summer up here in Palo Alto, since they are down in L.A., and I am thinking about staying for the rest of the year.”
Woodrow looked at the screen and scratched his neck. The sunny field in Perfect Life wasn’t helping to diminish the discomfort of the draft from the air conditioner in Austin West. He turned back to Angelina, who seemed to be warm and relaxed.
“So you think you’ll stay in California the whole year?”
“Yeah, I mean, Cambridge sucks. I hate the cold weather.”
“No kidding,” interjected Meg. “It’s going to suck having to be here.”
Woodrow watched a few more minutes of the lecture in silence. He decided to watch the rest later.
“Well, I’m going to go get some lunch, so I will see you guys around, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I won’t be on campus, but send me a message any time and we can meet up here!”
Meg laconically waved. “Yeah, see ya,” she said as Woodrow stood up.
Woodrow closed the Perfect Life interface, put away his media glasses, and picked up his bag. As he walked toward the front of the room to exit through the side door he noticed the same distortion he had seen before around the heads of each of the students. When he was only a few feet away he recognized Meg and realized what was causing the effect. She was wearing an iPerfect, a metaverse interface he had heard about but not seen in action. Her entire head was enclosed in a helmet that was covered in a high resolution display that showed her head, simulating transparency. From the outside it appeared that Meg was looking attentively at exactly the place where Brewster would have been standing if she were present. On the inside, of course, he knew she was still laying in that field with Angelina, distracting herself with a crossword puzzle.
Woodrow wondered to himself while walking toward the deserted Hark whether this was what Dean Lessig had meant when he said that HLS was now the perfect law school.
Matthew Hutchins is a 2L and Publisher of the Harvard Law Record