Follow-up on laptops in class, and comments on comments

October 8, 2010

I was happy to read all your comments on my recent post about why I don’t bring my laptop to class this year. Those who are interested might want to go and take a look at the comments there; at the very least, I want to highlight what Ben said because I wholeheartedly agree:

There’s something that gets lost in making the Internet less of a “gee whiz, I can go online and get anything!” type of thing and more of a necessity to make it through day-to-day life.

Hear, hear. The Internet used to be this Cool Fun Thing that I was excited to have, and that made life easier because it empowered you beyond what was expected of you. But now if you don’t have a computer, you’re behind what’s expected. (Much more on that in a post that will follow this one tomorrow.)

Oh, and for those of you who e-mail me your comments privately, I would like to thank you for sharing your insights, which are always high-quality; therefore I encourage you to post them publicly. Your thoughts add value to my blog!

Anyway. I have some follow-up observations on computers in class.

As you may know, I’m a student not just at the School of Information, but also at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. I’m taking a super-interesting class over there right now (PubPol 673: International Security Affairs, for the record). In the midst of notes about US soft power, Sunnis, Shi’a, and what the Muslim world thinks of us, I jotted this down:

5 computers / 17 people in class

With SI as my home school, this was truly striking to me—and by that I mean that the ratio was that low! I also noticed that, far from feeling like a freak with my printed-out readings and my hand-written notes, at the Ford School, I’m totally normal. So, it might be that SI is just full of zealots, as I was saying. This is encouraging to me. At the very least, maybe the people in charge of our national security will be a little better at focusing than we librarians and iPhone app designers are. (Then again, they’re not as good at sharing information with each other as we are, as I just read in the 9/11 Comission Report. If only the NSA and CIA and FBI had all friended each other on Facebook.1)

Actually, though, we SI kids might not be as hopeless as this suggests, either. Since I posted about why I don’t bring my computer to class, I actually have had it come up twice in class—without me bringing it up—that some people who use sites like Facebook and Twitter during class are making efforts to not to do so—or even to open their laptops—because they know they aren’t getting anything out of class when they do. These conversations were both of a laughing-but-serious tone.

And hey, recent column in the New York Times, entitled “Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend” had this to say:

Devices have become security blankets. Take the time to wean yourself. Start by scheduling a few Internet-free hours each day, with your phone turned off. It’s the only way you’ll be able to read anything seriously, whether it’s Plato or Derrida on Plato.

Yup. I’m encouraged to see I’m not crazy in thinking the world has gone slightly crazy!

You’ll note that I didn’t link the article. I didn’t want you feel the momentary brain-lag that Nicholas Carr2 suggests (or cites studies that suggest) follows the reading of a hypertext link. But now that you’re done with my blog post, you might want to go there, so here it is. But don’t get too distracted now. I don’t want you to burn the cookies in the oven or forget to call Grandma back or anything.

  1. Not that it existed in 2001. Too bad. Hey, given Facebook’s privacy loopholes, the Feds could just watch Osama’s status updates and forget having to talk to each other in the first place.
  2. Author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, the book that made me finally get started on this blog idea I’d been kicking around for a while. I just found out he has a blog which I am going to link in my blogroll now.
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