To preface this irrationally rage filled diatribe that has been boiling inside of me for four years, I would like to note a few things. First, this is not a personal attack, I have no one student or class in mind when making these complaints, I have dozens. Second, I am a social sciences student here at Brandeis. I have never taken a STEM class (ew) and I have been in few humanities classes. Thus, the experience I am speaking to is one formed in classes built on classroom discussions as opposed to lectures or labs. Lastly, I know there are people who need to use their laptops in class–slow writers, ADHD, poor choice of major, whatever–if you must use your laptop in class and use it only as much as you need to, please disregard my anger.
I was once a laptop notetaker. As a freshman, it seemed like the adult thing to do. But after a few years I realized what a massive distraction, over which I had very little self-control, the laptop was. If I was doing something not-class related on my computer, which half the time I was, I may have believed I was multitasking, but I absolutely was not. If I was typing or playing a game, I wasn’t listening. So since my junior year, I only take out the laptop when I actively need it, otherwise all I use is a pen and paper. But I am not in the majority.
Computers, as well as TVs, have this magical ability to draw my eye. It does not matter what is happening on the screen, my eye line is lured by the unnatural and overly bright blue light. So, in any class where I am not sitting in the front row, I see you. I watch you play Wordle, scroll social media, watch a soccer game. I literally cannot stop myself from looking. Which is mainly a problem because it makes me feel like a creep. It is not necessarily distracting–well it is for you, because you also cannot multitask no matter how much you think you can–it’s just slightly annoying. Particularly if you are doing something interesting, in which case, I am distracted.
Now, I get that class can be boring, and maybe this is your least favorite of all of your classes, and you don’t care that my eyes flick to your Reddit feed every five minutes, but it’s not just me who knows what you’re doing. Your professor knows, too. In a class of 30 or fewer students, professors definitely know that all 18 of you who are typing for the whole 80 minutes without looking up are not taking vigorous notes. You are fucking around, while they are trying to teach. And that’s pretty rude. This is what encouraged me to put my laptop away. It is weird, anti-social behavior to be staring at your laptop, doing something mindless, while a person you are paying so much money to teach you tries to teach you.
I have never been in a class where a professor called out a student for being distracted on their computer, and I believe that is because they would have to call out half of the class. Everyone does it, despite no one benefiting. And I am no anti-tech purist. I love my phone, I love my computer, I believe they are net positives for society, and certainly have their benefits within academia, but they are net negatives for almost everyone’s experience in the classroom.
Now, dear reader, you may be coming up with dozens of excuses for why you should be exempt from my complaints. I would like to counter a few of them here:
You have bad handwriting. This is no excuse, either you are able to read your own handwriting (mine is awful, but I manage) or you lack a very basic skill that would not hurt to be improved upon.
You can’t take notes fast enough. Taking notes too slowly can occasionally be a valid excuse, certain professors talk quickly and test on everything, but most don’t. In reality, you probably just did not read the syllabus close enough and are taking excessive notes.
You can include graphs and more detailed note structures on the computer. People took notes before computers. If you want to be able to reorganize, write in pencil or messy your notes with arrows. Take pictures of graphs your professor draws, or just draw a model of it yourself. Notes don’t have to be pretty and you do not need to capture everything you look at in class.
You get bored. This is what it comes down to for most people. You don’t take notes on your laptop because it’s better to take notes on your laptop, you do it so you are closer to the internet. But you are missing out on a rare opportunity to be bored. Boredom is a beautiful thing, it is a luxury. And when it happens in the middle of the day, it’s much less likely to lead you to thoughts of dark and awful things. Just be bored! Learn how to be bored again, like you did before you got a cell phone. Doodle, daydream, judge your fellow classmates, maybe even engage in a classroom conversation. None of these activities distract nearly to the degree that the internet does and, as adults surrounded by technology, it is too easy for us to forget how to entertain ourselves without the internet helping us. Unplug while you still have the chance.