Can you read this whole post without switching to something else?

So, post-laptop burglary debacle, I was sitting in class today not taking notes as I lacked an apparatus to do so. I could’ve written notes on paper, but what is this, the 1980’s?

Pictured: definitely the 1980's.

My rationale was, “I will focus completely on the lecture, and allow the message of the professor to soak in to me, without the anchor of searching for discrete points to record.”

So naturally, that failed.

Pretty quickly my eyes started wandering the room, and I found myself peering at other people’s laptop screens. I know this is incredibly nosy and invasive, but I was really bored, and boredom can justify a lot of things.

I found myself particularly fascinated with one student, because I realized he had a sort of note taking system that is probably very helpful to him, but I doubt recognized by any sort of education system.

In a word document, he had a standard note taking process: the professor says things and a shorthand note is written down. But in between these notes, the student would flip to his web browser and do a Google search about things and people that the professor was talking about. In real time, he was making annotations and connections to other sources to broaden his understanding of what the professor was talking about. For example, the professor offhandedly mentioned a filmmaker, and the kid went right to the Wikipedia page for that guy.

When I take notes on my laptop, I try to stay within whatever text program I’m using. Venturing outside of that program is the result of a failure to focus, poor impulse control, ADD, whatever you want to call it. If a professor in a class has a ‘no electronics, including laptops’ rule, I usually understand, because I, like many others whose laptops I spied tonight, am occasionally/often drawn to pulling up some completely unrelated thing. But this kid had harnessed that energy and funneled it into a constructive learning process. Perhaps not the process that the professor intended or would approve of, but likely, the most useful for the student.

Pictured: a typical USC professor.

What if we encouraged students to take notes like this? Not to fight against the impulse to switch tasks while an electronic screen is in front of us, but to take advantage of it so that each student’s actual learning experience in the classroom is self-tailored to their needs and their unique requirements. This kid didn’t know who David O. Russell is, but I do. If the professor spent time explaining who he is, it would’ve been a waste of my time. A cursory glance through the Wikipedia article brought this kid up to speed on the conversation.

We can say that electronics and social media have given people short attention spans, and I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that I agree that it’s bad. Not better either, just different. There’s a shift happening in how we digest material and entertainment, and, to put it in a short burst, we need it in short bursts. There’s so much information being pumped into our brains now through so many sources that we re-wiring ourselves to be able to get the gist of something in a short amount of time.

We must recognize the failing, too, of this kind of processing of information. How do we determine the topics and news that require more than a cursory glance? I’m actually trying to figure that out, and you can help me. I’ve got a survey about how people gather news information, and filling it out could go a long ways towards making this blog have actual coherent points to talk about.

Anyway, if you made it this far, you deserve a reward. Here’s a cat with Samuel L. Jackson’s face.