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Bring Back the Notebook

Close the Macbook

By Isabel H. Evans

Of the many things I’ve learned during my freshman year, there is one important lesson that stands out: Don’t bring a laptop to class. Despite the fact that laptops can be used for greater efficiency in taking notes, their use undermines the academic process, rather than helping it.

At my high school, taking notes by hand was mostly encouraged. Seeing an open laptop in class was rare, even frowned upon. You can imagine my surprise at one of my first college lecturesas the Professor started to speak, I was distracted by the sudden buzzing behind me of open laptops and hundreds of flying hands typing the lecturer’s words. I looked up from my notebook, feeling a rush of inadequacy with my retro pen and open notebook. I was sure that I would fall behind.

And yet, over the course of this year, I have learned that my initial sense of respect for fellow students’ dedication and speed at note- taking was misdirected. Instead of serving as a fantastic and efficient way to keep up with the teachers’ words laptops are a source of distraction and scattered thinking.

Instead of listening attentively to the lecturer, I find that most students—myself included—type out words without really taking anything in when using laptops in class. A moment of boredom or a pause in discussion is enough to find wonderful sources of cyber entertainment, just a few easy clicks away: Facebook albums! Tweets! Blog posts! When we try to resurface to focus on the lesson again, however, our minds are so fried with colliding pixels that our real engagement is lost. We begin typing again, but like disconnected zombies.

The problem is that we never run out of things to do on our laptops. Students can be entertained for hours in class without ever listening to a word of what the teacher is saying. I fondly remember one class in particular where, instead of listening to the subject at hand, I watched a fellow student Googling away next to me such pressing matters as “How to make Toffee.” Although toffee-making may have been of extreme importance, her focus on that subject rather than on the class material made it evident that none of what was being taught was sinking in.

One could easily argue that students have always found ways to distract themselves in class by doodling, passing notes, or taking a nap or two. But the difference here is that the world of cyberspace is limitless. You can only doodle for so long, but the Internet holds infinite distractions, infinite daydreams, and infinite numbers of scandalous Facebook albums to peruse. It never ends, and it is tempting to be sucked in, colonized, and transported, never to resurface until the end of class.

Admittedly, it can initially be intimidating to try and keep up in class with just a pen and paper while nearly everyone else is typing. But writing one’s notes by hand actually makes one realize what material is important and what is disposable. Typing notes makes it easy to take down everything professors say without filtering their words down to what is crucial. When we have less time to write everything down, we make better judgments on what material is expendable and what is not.

I have learned to leave my computer in my room for class, and I would encourage others to do the same. It is difficult, and there will be relapses. But in the end, it is beneficial for our education and more respectful towards the professors who put so much time into our course material.

Isabel H. Evans ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Matthews Hall.

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