Computers suck

BY JEREMY BLACHMAN

In the Record last week, DK wrote a column defending the “right” to have Internet access in class. “Class becomes unbearable without computers,” he wrote. “[T]ime drags and our brains shut down. No one, not even students with a sub-B average, should ever be forcibly subjected to a laptop-less experience.” This week, I take the opposite position. I think the Internet should be banned from class, and, in fact, I think computers should be banned. I almost think pen and paper should be banned, but I won’t quite go that far. Certainly tuna sandwiches should be banned, but that’s for an entirely different reason. Professors possibly ought to be banned, but that’s beyond the scope of my column this week.

Of course computers – and wireless Internet – make class less of a chore. It’s great to be able to check e-mail, instant message, surf the web, play solitaire, watch DVDs, shop for coat racks, and hack into the Pentagon’s electronic files, all while sitting in Fed Courts pretending to listen to the professor. I won’t dispute that attendance is higher because people know they can go to class and basically pretend they aren’t there and zone out and play first-person shooters. But this isn’t productive, and it’s not like just being in the classroom should be enough.

There are classes I bring my computer to this semester, and classes I don’t. The classes I either find really engaging, or feel like I really need to pay attention, I usually leave the computer at home. Maybe other people are better at this than I am, but when I have the computer, I’m not really mentally tuned in to the class. I’m tuned into the New York Times article I’m reading or the e-mail I’m sending, or the secret military formula I’m decoding. When I get called on, I’m flustered, because I haven’t been listening, I give a crappy answer, the professor moves on, and I go back to my fantasy baseball draft.

Even when I’m not Internet-enabled, and just using the computer to take notes, I’m not as engaged as if I’m writing with pen and paper. My notes end up looking like a transcript written by a narcoleptic. Five minutes of every word the professor says, without really knowing what I’m writing, and then I zone out into some other world, and get jarred back to life when I hear the clickity-clack of other people typing something (so it MUST be important!) or I hear my name. Or someone’s name. Or the cell phone of the dude next to me. There’s no value-add in transcribing what the professor is saying. Professors are smart, sure, but not everything they say is worth recording for posterity. Of course, sometimes you can turn what they say into monologues in Parody shows, so maybe it’s okay in special circumstances like that. But usually it’s just kind of useless.

And besides all this, computers are big. They block people’s faces. You can’t really interact with classmates when you’re all behind computer screens. It distances you. Like the tuna sandwiches. You can’t really interact with classmates eating smelly lunch foods. You can’t get close enough to challenge their paradigms and tear down their assumptions and revolutionize their worldviews and whatever else it is law students could theoretically do to each other in class that doesn’t involve anything filthy. Get your mind out of the gutter.

So, I think we should ban laptops, ban ethernet, ban keyboards, ban cell phones, ban fax machines, and ban tuna fish. For a better law school experience. Even if it means no one will ever go to class.

Jeremy Blachman is a 3L. Read more at http://jeremyblachman.blogspot.com.

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