In today’s time of commonplace livestreaming, a webcam or two looking out over a college campus is more likely to elicit a why than a wow.
But travel back to the 1990s and early 2000s, and you’ll find a different reaction. In those decades, livestreaming was new, it was novel, and it was sweeping college campuses across the world. The University of Cambridge was the first; they had a camera trained on its computer science department’s coffee pot so they wouldn’t have to walk all the way over to the coffee room to check it. This coffee cam became a viral sensation, and before long webcams were popping up on other campuses as well. However, these cameras weren’t just to monitor caffeine levels—they had another purpose. They could show what life was like on the campus.
UR was not one to be left out of this movement. In 2003, the University got its own set of webcams—one mounted on the Interfaith Chapel, looking out over Eastman Quad, and the other mounted in the fifth floor of Wilson Commons, looking down over the Pit. These cameras were meant to benefit three different groups of people: prospective students, alumni, and current students.
Prospective students were given the chance to see what a normal day on campus actually looked like without physically coming to the school. Before things like virtual tours, such livestreams were one of the best ways for students to experience campus at a distance. The cameras were thus purposefully situated in places that gave both a beautiful view of campus and a view of the day-to-day lives of students.
Alumni, on the other hand, were given a chance to see how the campus looked after they had left. Rather than simply going through old pictures and memories, alumni could see students moving around in the places they used to frequent and remember better what it was like when they were students themselves. They could also see how the campus had changed since their various departures.
Current students didn’t need to see the campus. However, the webcams gave them the chance to say hello to their friends and family back home who weren’t living on campus, and who probably hadn’t seen their faces in months. This was especially beneficial for students who couldn’t travel home often. Students could tell their parents or friends that they would be in a specific place at a specific time, and their parents or friends could go onto the webcam feed and see them there, smiling and waving, in real time. This feature was especially popular during events like Commencement, before such events were livestreamed in their entirety.
So, where are these webcams now? Well, they’re still up there, still looking out at campus, diligently sending video feeds to their respective webpages. You can still find these pages, too, if you know where to look. At the moment, they aren’t linked anywhere on the University’s website (webcams have fallen a bit out of vogue), but if you search for “webcam” on the website, they’ll pop up. Once on the page, you can request control of the webcam (you may have to wait your turn, depending on how popular they are at any given moment) and pan around to different areas of the Eastman Quad or Wilson Commons. There are a few presets you can play around with as well—for instance, the “Hi Mom!” preset that many students used when setting up live hellos to their families.
If you want to go old-school, you could give your parents a wave. You could also use them to watch the weather from inside a cozy dorm room, or to watch all the students who are late for class running across the Eastman Quad. Whatever you want to use them for, the webcams are there for you—feel free to give them a go.