Sunday, August 31, 2014

The benefits of being tech-bereft in class


I had a dream earlier this week that I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was weird going back to school at 34 and on my own terms, but exhilarating as well. I'm not sure what major or degree I went for, but I recall putting on a Nevada Wolf Pack T-shirt, driving to campus and reliving the joy and potential of the first day of school.

When I originally attended college from 1998 to 2005, the quantum leap of technology we enjoy today had yet to happen. Sure, there were non-smart cellphones, laptops and iPods, but they were only beginning to be ubiquitous, and I was an even later adopter. I got my first laptop in 2006 and my first (and current) iPod in 2008, and didn't have a cellphone until Christmas Eve 2004. Given that I took no classes in the spring 2005 semester (it was my exam term), this means that I never brought anything more technologically complicated than a calculator to class.

That seems crazy to me now, but even though it wasn't that long ago, it was still a different time.

During my first semester, my English 115 instructor urged us to learn how to "compose on the computer." It was a foreign concept to most of us. Prior to that, I had always handwritten my assignments first — even if I was sitting in the computer lab to type it up, which I did only if it was required, which it usually wasn't.

That's right, the lab. I didn't own a computer. In the earliest days, if I wanted to type something up, I had to go to a specific lab that had a small section of Macintosh Performas with word processors (and we still said "word processors"), check in if space permitted and pay for any printouts I made. If I wanted Internet access, I had to go to another lab. It was in that lab that I (eventually) learned the art of typing as I went. 

Still, I figured out over time that the best way I retained information was to write it out by hand. Even if I'd taken notes in class, on exam week I would laboriously rewrite new, cleaner notes based on the source material, just to hammer in my mind what I needed to know. That, combined with my famously neat handwriting, led to classmates asking to borrow my notes during many study sessions. (This also saved me from explaining the numerous doodles in the margins, among which were piles of poop to mark an argument I didn't like.) 

I also had to write down notes during journalistic gigs. On the rare occasion I had access to a computer during an assignment, I found it more cumbersome to type than to write really fast. (I had recorders too, but transcribing audio is a massive time-suck on deadline, so notes were still the best.) Even as recently as 2012, during my most recent stint as a professional reporter, I'd still take longhand notes when interviewing over the phone and type in the article as I went.

These days, I take my laptop anywhere that I think I'll be writing, and compose on the keyboard. But I feel like if I ever went back to school, I'd revert to my stodgy, paper-based ways in class. A laptop or tablet, especially in the age of Wi-Fi, could be a huge distraction (also, I'm notorious for typing very fast and loud, which would annoy everyone else). And when I got down to study business, I'd once again dim the lights, put on public-radio jazz and start scrawling. A laptop is a glowing Internet temptress. 

I kind of want to go back to school now.

[Rifles through old college papers for something to illustrate this blog]

Oh, that's right. Never mind.

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