Story and photos by Katherine Duke '05
As an innocent Amherst first-year in the fall of 2001, I developed an addiction that has a hold on me to this day. I got sucked into a strange world that’s difficult to explain to those who haven’t visited: a world where we know each other by first and middle initials, last name and class year (I’m kdduke05); where “snooping” and “snitching” are not only socially acceptable but appreciated; and where people who have never laid eyes on each other regularly engage in vigorous debates and develop lasting friendships.
Gillian Woldorf '01 (gmwoldorf01) baked cupcakes for the Planworld tailgate.
The text-based online community now known as Planworld is ancient compared to LiveJournal, MySpace and Facebook; it has its roots in “the VAX”—the computer processor that Amherst used in the 1980s. Students and faculty could post their “plans” (brief updates on their research and writing) and check one another’s plans. Over the decades, students and alumni—including Jonathan Welch ’84 (jhwelch), John Manly ’85 (jwmanly), Alex Hochron ’02 (anhochron), Seth Fitzsimmons ’02 (snfitzsimmon), Johnnie Odom ’00 (jlodom00), Tosin Onafowokan ’08E (oonafowokan08) and others—have managed and updated Planworld, adding new features and giving it a Web interface.
Heather Van Dusen '07 (hrvandusen07), Christopher Burnor '06 (cmburnor06) and James Buchanan '09 (jbuchanan09) planned on rain.
Nowadays, we Planworld citizens (mostly young alumni, with a few current students, significant others and friends) log on daily, check one another’s plans and write whatever we want to share. We post poems, news articles and YouTube clips. We pick one another’s brains with “Plansurveys.” We vent about the personal, the professional and the political. Mostly, we follow the ups and downs of one another’s lives (Someone got laid off. Someone got engaged! Someone got mugged. Someone got a kitten!).
We also use our plans to arrange get-togethers, and a bunch of us decided that this year’s Amherst-Williams Homecoming game should mark the first-ever Planworld tailgate. Parker Morse ’96 (pjmorse96) and Sandy Klanfer ’09 (sklanfer09) did the organizing and grilling. I showed up to Pratt Field with my Amherst employee badge and my camera. Others arrived from Vermont, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., decked in Amherst gear. We shook hands and hugged and—when necessary—introduced ourselves by our screen names, finally connecting faces to some of the lives we’d been reading about for months and years. Current students talked to those long-since graduated: “What was your major?” “What floor did you live on?” “Your baby is so cute! I’ve been looking at all your pictures!” We chatted about grad school and job searches, pausing only occasionally to check the score of the game. And when the weather crossed over from drizzle to full-fledged rain, we pulled out umbrellas, huddled up and sheltered each other.
Later, Johanna Lunglhofer (who went to a different college and doesn’t have a plan… yet…) asked me and her boyfriend, Solomon Granor ’04 (ssgranor04), how many of those friends we’d actually known when we were students at Amherst. Not many, we realized—we’d met most of them after we graduated, through Planworld. “It’s kind of a community-after-the-fact, huh?” she said. Exactly.
Want to join Planworld? Log in here with your Amherst username and password.