Some things that have happened between the end of last school year and the beginning of this one: the Emmys, the autumnal equinox, my sister starting college, my sister’s college having parents weekend and many other events because it’s been so damn long since we’ve been in school. But hey, we’re here now, and I can’t help but notice that something is a little different. From what I’ve seen, the attitude of professors toward laptops is changing. And thank God for that.
One of the most important lessons that a new college freshman must learn is how not to be on Facebook all the time. Unlike high school, when you were at school seven hours a day and spent your remaining hours doing homework, in college you have the potential to be on your computer constantly. Back home you may not have even owned a laptop; now you have one and it’s basically your spirit animal. Now that you don’t have to take painful handwritten notes during lectures, why would you? Well, there are a lot of reasons, actually, but the distinctions can escape freshmen. The result is that a room full of Northwestern freshmen (whether it’s an Intro to International Relations lecture or a club meeting) really means a room full of computer screens. This is bad.
Well, it’s not actually apocalyptic or anything, especially considering other events that are supposed to occur later in 2012. It’s just annoying and distracting and probably unproductive. I probably sound like a buzz-killing Luddite, but the fact is it’s hard to fully absorb everything Professor Morson is teaching you if you’re flipping back and forth between Facebook and Amazon every time he takes a breath. And at the very least, I’m not the only one who holds this (I’m sure) rather unpopular opinion. Last year a study of student laptop use by a St. John’s University law professor showed that 96 percent of students in most classes used laptops for non-class purposes, and as a result over half the students were quantifiably distracted.
Of course, there are alternate views, like a study from Temple University declaring “Let Them Use Laptops,” but my own personal experience shows that a quarter spent reading Grantland articles and checking Tweets during class lead to some (shall we say) less than stellar grades.
My personal idiocy aside, most Northwestern students are more than equal to the task of acing classes without looking their professor in the eye. But such methods don’t exactly promote great discussion, do they? My favorite classes last year were the ones where I was either deprived of wi-fi or forced by professors to close my laptop. Granted, these classes were inherently awesome (looking at you, Russian Lit) but the absence of laptops made for a more focused, fulfilling experience.
The most important part about the laptop absence in my first few classes this quarter is that it is enforced. As that Temple study pointed out, there are certainly benefits to using laptops. But you can’t decide if the benefits of laptops outweigh the cons until you learn to live without them.