Looking Past Technology

“Laptops away.”

The words seemed to radiate through the auditorium like the continuous chime of a bell after it has been struck. The only sounds were the groans and shuffling of disappointed students as they stuffed their laptops into their backpacks. I watched as the boy in front of me reached into his bag and pulled out a spiral-bound notebook. With disgust on his face, he seemed to handle the notebook as his enemy, bracing for the inevitable boredom to come. I already had my notebook in front of me, as I have always been the kind of student who takes notes by hand. When I got to Boston College, I realized I was in the minority. During freshman year, I succumbed to the peer pressure and brought my laptop to my 300-person microeconomics class. After only 15 minutes, I found myself on the Urban Outfitters website, trying to decide what dress to buy. So I was actually happy about the no-laptop policy. For once, I could sit through a class without being distracted by the kid in front of me watching Game of Thrones.

Everyone knows that laptops invite multitasking. Since middle school, we have been warned about the distractions they present. What we didn’t know, until a recent study conducted by Princeton and UCLA researchers, was that laptop use negatively impairs the manner and quality of in-class note-taking. Specifically, the researchers found that laptop note-takers, because of the speed at which they typed, were mindlessly transcribing the lecture verbatim. On the other hand, the longhand note-takers were summarizing what the professor said and this process of encoding and putting the notes into their own words helped them better grasp the material. Also, with the technological barrier removed, the longhand note-takers wrote less and therefore had the time to listen more closely, partake in classroom discussions, and ask questions. As a result, they performed better on assessments, especially those of a conceptual nature.

Beyond note-taking, I have found that just the presence of laptops in the classroom, especially in my seminar courses, is not at all conducive to discussion. The wall formed by the many open computers creates both a physical and intellectual barrier between students and faculty. The discussion isn’t nearly as interesting when only half the class is mentally present. Similarly, in our interactions outside the classroom, technology poses a barrier. You are a lot less likely to approach someone when they appear to be absorbed in their phone. And everyone hates how terrible it feels when you’re at dinner with a friend and you notice them texting other friends or checking Snapchat stories. Technology poses a real threat to our ability to connect with others.

Active listening is an important skill both inside and outside of the classroom. Start honing that skill now by closing your laptop and listening closely to what your professor is saying. In doing so, you will have a better understanding of high-level concepts, a prerequisite for being able to sort out the details. Listening attentively will also help you strengthen your relationships with others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in Lower with friends, excited to tell them about my day, but because they were completely engrossed in their devices, they only heard pieces of what I had to say. Our computers and smartphones remove us from the moment and keep us from being present. So if you haven’t already done so, head over to the bookstore, buy an old-fashioned spiral notebook, close your laptop in class, and give longhand note-taking a try. And when you’re with your friends, try to resist the magnetic pull of your smartphone. You’ll score higher on exams, and you’ll find that without technology creating an obstacle in your everyday interactions, you’ll get more out of life.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor