So one day in class I looked up and saw everyone had a browser open on their screens or was fiddling with their phones or messing around with their tablets. I was looking up from my phone by the way and it struck me how much learning had changed. I felt for the lecturer a bit because just a few years back, he’d have had the undivided attention of the class while he postulated about whatever he was trying to pass across. How did it feel talking to thirty people while twenty of them were distracted?

First of all, is this distraction a good thing or a bad thing? I once had a class where we were given slinky coils to fiddle with while the lecture was going on. They said studies indicated that people concentrated better in class when they had something to fiddle with in their hands. So during class, we’d be forming the coils into new shapes and bouncing them around, generally getting the coils to misbehave and laughing quietly at some of the funny shapes we invented. I remember really liking the class and looking back on it as one of the most interesting courses I’d been in. It’s possible that having something to play with in class helps you stay awake and interested while the snippets of information diffuse into your brain from the lecturer’s lips.

I remember other classes I had where phones were not allowed. Half the class would be asleep. I sat in front to fight this sleep but I tell you, sometimes I must have embarrassed myself, my family and my country with my mouth drooping, pen falling from paw, head backward falling reverse nods. Because when the time came to review the slides for the exam, almost everything came across as brand new, like I’d never seen it before. Either I was in Total Recall sleep in class without my knowledge or I was sleeping with my eyes wide open. Many of my classmates reported the same unfamiliarity with the course material. I could explain the phenomenon to some of them with candid camera photos I’d taken of them in their sleeping moments.

You see, man was originally very active. Hunting, gathering, farming, dancing round the fire, swinging through the branches, etc. Now all of a sudden you want to take that active mind and force it to focus on just one thing/topic for a long period? Who does that?! No! We resist! We will not be taken alive by the kingdom of boredom! So if you’re like me, you’ll tend to shut down and sleep, kind of keeping the dogs of boredom and brain cell damage at bay.

So, do you think lecturers should allow students fiddle with their phones in class? Is the question of lack of respect really still valid? Isn’t the point to attend and pass the tests? Do we have to sit enthralled at your feet for three hours on end, hanging on to every word falling from your mouth like you were the Guru himself in order to understand what you’re trying so disinterestedly to say?

I don’t think so.

It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
a father’s delight is behind all this.
(Prov. 3 vs 12, The Message)