York is a collegiate university, and that’s great. But telling the uninformed newcomer student to pick a college to live in can end up a bit like telling a dog to walk across a minefield. What if you don’t know what a “Halifax” is? Without the guiding hand of stereotypes to guide you along, how are you supposed to know who’s got asbestos, and who doesn’t have a social life? What if you just wander around, aimlessly, and accidentally end up signing up to live on the number 44 bus or someone’s desk?
Well, worry no more! A group of enterprising Computer Science students have produced a website dubbed the “Sorting Hat”, after Harry Potter’s famously oracular headgear. The website lets you enter your preferences by answering a few questions – do you want nearby study rooms or supermarkets? Are you sociable or allergic to people? Do you approve of the concept of “sleep”? – and suggests the college for you based on your answers.
For the record, it got mine mostly right, so credit where it’s due: I live in Vanbrugh, and the sorting hat revealed that Vanbrugh and I were an 81 per cent match! (The wedding’s next week). Another useful feature was the ability to mark questions in order of relevance – maybe you’d be OK cooking your own food but a campus bar killed your father so you want to really want to stay away from those, and so forth.
Maybe this is the future, right here! A whole plethora of book-based sorting programs might be right on the horizon. We could make Fifty Shades of College, perhaps! The machine automatically sorts you into Goodricke, because it’s really into Goodricke, and you might protest and refuse to give consent for a bit, and then it turns out eventually it was for your own good so you’ll just have to get used to BDSM. Um, Goodricke. Maybe both. Whatever you’re into.
We could have Game of Colleges – are you a frosty Alcuin northerner or a rich James-ite with one eye on the throne? Or do you just want to wander around Heslington East with your dragons for about four seasons? Nobody ever gets to the end of the Ulysses program, but they all lie about it in seminars. The Shakespeare program only sorts out two rooms – “2B” or “Not 2B” – and is powered by telling him that joke and using the energy as he turns in his grave.
But there are limitations here, and important ones. Notably, who you’re going to live with next year is every bit as important as where you live when it comes to making first year brilliant. Furthermore, ultimately, nothing beats actually looking around the place yourself, or asking people who lived there what they actually thought about it.
The message here, then, is don’t just make life decisions by blindly following the commands of a machine. There’ll be plenty of time for that, once the Revolution starts and Emperor TRON 9000 deploys its wifi-compatible kill-drones to make us finally shut up about dresses. But as something to help that process along – or just something to make you feel smug about having picked the best college – Well, it’s not half bad. Try it yourself!