BY JEREMY BLACHMAN
The black nine on the red ten. Don’t you see it? No, don’t give up, no, NO! You can win this one. To the left, to the left. Look at the column. It’s right there. NO!
I’ve found that it’s very hard to telepathically communicate solitaire moves to the person sitting in front of me, no matter how hard I try. I pretend to take the moral high ground by refusing to play games on my laptop in class. Instead, I watch everyone else do it.
It’s become part of the sights and sounds of the classroom. The clickety-clack of laptop keys. The message on the blackboard about this afternoon’s symposium on Law and Cauliflower in the Ropes-Gray room. The kid down the row from me peeing in his pants every time his name is called.
And solitaire. Well, not just solitaire. Hearts. Minesweeper. Snood. Games where you shoot colored squares as they fall down from the sky. Games where you catch colored circles as they rise up to the sky. In criminal law, I see people playing first-person shooting games. Next semester in property, I imagine I’ll see people playing Sim City. Perhaps in the sports law class, people play NHL Hockey. And in feminist legal theory, well, I think you can see where I’m going….
It’s hard not to watch the screens. It’s impossible not to get mesmerized by the cards falling like springs when your neighbor wins at solitaire. Impossible not to marvel at the ability of some people to simultaneously play pinball and answer a professor’s question, without missing a flip of the flipper or a precedent-setting case cited. Impossible not to wonder why we feel the need to keep ourselves otherwise entertained even while we’re sitting in the classroom being taught by some of the smartest people in the world.
Even without playing games, I find things to steal my attention away. I change the colors on my screen. I spell-check. I use Microsoft Word’s auto-text feature to create time-saving abbreviations while I take notes. My computer now automatically turns “sc” into “Supreme Court.” It turns “tjur” into “territorial jurisdiction.” My favorite is that I’ve made “oms” immediately transform into “objective manifestation of subjective intent.” Thirty-seven letters saved. Used it 24 times in one contracts class.
The distractions make computers a curse as well as a blessing. Sure, they let us take notes more quickly and make them more organized and easier to read — relieving us from having to decode our hurried scribbles when we go back over the pages (“is this a reference to Uniform Commercial Code section 2-207, or my professor’s office hours?”) — but they also give us dozens of ways to keep from paying attention.
I genuinely feel guilty whenever I lose focus and start changing my font or making the text blink. I feel like it’s ridiculous that I can’t force myself to concentrate for an hour and a half — especially since much of what’s happening in the classroom is genuinely interesting, or at least useful. I start to wonder if it’s a function of technology having made our expectations too high — television and computers and video games and cell phones and microwave ovens. (Microwave ovens? Maybe not.) Constant stimulation. Overkill.
I see commercials for cell phones that let you check e-mail, play games, send text messages, surf the Web, store your daily schedule and do long division. Isn’t simply being able to talk on the phone enough? And if we’re used to our gadgets and gizmos doing seven things at once, I guess we’re used to our brains functioning like that as well. A professor talking just isn’t enough. We need solitaire and minesweeper and pinball and Warcraft III (I did research to find that one) as well. It almost makes me wish we didn’t have technology at all. That we didn’t grow up with all this stuff to distract us. That laptops didn’t come with solitaire. That simply listening to the professor would be enough. It really should be.
But I’m writing this during class. So who am I to talk?