Doug Davis, Professor of Psychology, was hired by Haverford in 1972, when his first "serious" trip to Morocco had come to an end. He and his wife Susan, a cultural anthropologist, had just spent two years there, working on thesis research and for the Peace Corps, helping people deal with culture shock. Davis had been at Haverford for nine years when he and his wife were invited back to Morocco as a part of the Adolescence Project at Harvard University, a study that eventually examined adolescence across seven different cultures. Meanwhile, a little invention called an Apple computer had arrived on Haverford's campus just before their departure for Morocco. For Davis, all of the pieces of his career were falling into place; as he describes it, "it was love at first sight."
"It was as if there was a part of me that was just waiting for a gizmo like that to come along," Davis says of that computer. He describes a Psychological Statistics course, which used Bryn Mawr's computer, a 300 Baud modem and a printer, with nostalgic glee: "It couldn't have been more primitive, but the excitement of being able to send data across space, get results back, and save the results in files..." The possibilities were so enticing that he decided to take one with him to Morocco. For a year, starting in the fall of 1981, Davis was in a Moroccan town of 11,000 people with seven water taps, one paved street, and one Apple II Plus computer.
Davis was able to incorporate all of these interests into his career because his main focus (if it had a name) would be called anthropological psychology. Not to be confused with psychological anthropology, his field of interest involves "how culture and personality are really the same thing." He first developed these ideas during his years as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, and while working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. "There is no theory of personality that isn't imbedded in culture," Davis says. "Culture is the most profound feature in how groups of people are distinct from each other. You are born a potential human being and you immediately become a Moroccan or an American... that's constructive, it's not built in."
As the 1980's progressed, Davis and his wife returned to the U.S. and, after a few follow-up visits to Morocco, they published the results from their Moroccan study in 1989. The appearance of a World Wide Web browser called Mosaic a few years later put all of the pieces of Davis' career into perspective. "The long-term good fortune was that I was at Haverford," Davis says, "which lets you, at least once you've got tenure, pretty much do your own thing." Just as Haverford had let him be a "quirky Freudian," he was given the freedom to "play on computers" and develop his interests. When several Haverford graduates created Webster's Weekly, the first features magazine on the World Wide Web, they asked him to write a piece on psychology and computing; that developed into a column called "Erotic Computing." "All my crazy ideas about computers are in there," Davis explains, "and I see them as the pieces of what I'm now trying to put together as the rest of my career."
Intrigued by the academic possibilities inherent in the Internet, Davis put two of his Haverford courses onto the Web two years ago, and the majority of students in the introductory class were pleasantly surprised. He will continue to coordinate his courses with material from the Web this fall; the title of his advanced course in personality theory is "Freud and the Web." Davis says that he will "try and persuade people that when Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams in the late 1890's, he had the Web in mind, although he didn't know it by that name. Freud's sense of how things acquire meaning in the mind is fundamentally hypertextual." On the first day, he will present the text of one of Freud's dreams, and every other word will be underlined, as a link to other pages with further information. Davis believes this is the way the book has to be read: "It's the furthest thing from a scientific treatise as you can possibly imagine. It's a hypertextual, autobiographical novel, essentially."
This confidence in the resources of the Internet was reinforced by his recent work in Morocco, during the 1995-96 academic year. Davis describes the experience: "I've been talking to Moroccan audiences, in Moroccan Arabic, about what it's like to create a classroom in cyberspace, and they understand what I'm talking about." Although Morocco's Internet node has only been fully functional since January 1996, he has held dozens of demonstrations and hundreds of conversations from technical high schools and universities to the Moroccan Parliament. Davis fondly recalls working with a science professor in Marrakech, searching for Web pages that dealt with insect communication and pheromones produced by Saharan locusts. They came up with papers all over the world, in English, French and Japanese. Davis is thrilled that access to this information is immediate, and that the authors are directly available by e-mail, a technology that he calls, "the most pervasive kind of influence and benefit of the Internet."
One of Davis' main concerns regarding the spread of the Internet is related to class difference. "If we talk about an emerging global on-line culture," Davis says, "there's a real danger that in the extent it touches the third world, it's only going to touch the elite." This concern has roots in his own research on adolescence: "What really interests me as a personality psychologist is that the typical Moroccan computer expert got into computers by taking a very technical, abstract course, while the typical American got a Nintendo when he was four years old." Davis believes that so many Americans without extensive computer experience are Internet experts because "it has roots in our culture that it doesn't have anywhere else in the world." On the other hand, he has also discovered that gender affinity for computer use is actually less pronounced in Morocco, where there are proportionally more female university professors than there are in the U.S.
Considering the recent growth in computer use, Davis hopes that Haverford will begin to take greater advantage of Internet resources. "I know it would be crazy to expect faculty to totally change the way they function pedagogically," Davis admits, "but we can certainly be doing a lot more to entice people by showing them what has already been done." As his own HyperResume (http://uslink.net/~ddavis/d2vita.html) illustrates, Davis feels that the Web is so much more effective than publishing in a journal in that if you solve a problem, the solution becomes a permanent part of the Web. "There's never been this kind of chance to pay off on what we always have pretended we were up to," Davis says, "which is adding to the sum of human knowledge and creating this great texture of wisdom. The Web makes it happen."
While last year saw a tremendous increase in the private capitalist networking of the Web, Davis remains optimistic for its future. Speaking as "a selfish academic who doesn't have much money," he hopes that companies will underwrite the upgrading of bandwidth for entertainment purposes, while the users of e-mail for academic purposes will not be charged. Questions remain for the culture at large, however. Since only 20 million of 250 million Americans are on-line, Davis wonders, "Are the rest really waiting to do this? Is the culture too illiterate to benefit from a media that is still primarily text oriented? It's a piece of what I hope to be studying.' He's also interested in what people call the "MTV generation," and an increasing impatience for novels or hour-long lectures. He says that we have to imagine the disappearance of the novel; a phase of human cultural evolution could end. "I think we may be headed into something more different than we even imagine, and that the Web, primitive as it is, may be the first glimpse we have of that."