March 29, 2005
Ripeness and Wireless
March 29, 2005 02:31 AM
I didn't get in on the debate during the first round, but now that the topic of wireless access in law school classrooms has come up again, it's time to offer my black robed wisdom. (I really am wearing a black robe at the moment, to check for any problems before handing it on to the Law Revue costume goddess.)
For the most part, I likely would be better off without wireless access. For every time that I have a good AIM conversation about the day's reading, or Shephardize a case under discussion, there are ten classes in which I'm not paying as much attention as I should, considering that I've bothered to get out of bed to attend them in the first place. But in college, I probably would have been better off without so much free time and with more supervision to ensure that I was studying and going to class. Here at law school, I'd be better off with more structure to ensure that I'm learning as I go along instead of cramming at the end of the semester.
Part of the maturity process is learning how to deal with the temptation to waste time and be unproductive. As attorneys, most of us will be sitting in front of an connected computer all the time. Certainly I often was tempted (and succumbed to temptation) to waste time by surfing the internet when I was employed before law school; in fact, my blog started when I didn't have enough work to do and need an outlet for my mental energy. But if one doesn't learn how to ignore the temptations of time-wasting, or at least how to waste time while still getting all of one's work done, then eventually a boss will knock on the door and move one away from that free internet access.
"As attorneys, most of us will be sitting in front of an connected computer all the time."
Is this so? Being in my 51st year of practice, I cannot conceive of spending three tough years in law school to end up tethered to technology as a major part of a legal career. Granted, technology does provide major benefits not otherwise so readily available. But lawyers have to deal with people to help solve their problems. And lawyers like just about everybody have to waste some time to remain in balance with humanity. I advise learning the art of lunch: at least two, and preferably three, hours, with friends, no business discussed, and a drink or two or three. That's probably what the boss does.
By the way, with the big stress on billable hours, I wonder if a client contesting a legal bill has ever made an effort through discovery to check out the computer use of the attorneys working on the case to determine whether perhaps some of the billed time included visits to sites not relevant to the case?
It's a difficult problem to solve, no doubt. Does it seem paternalistic for the school to turn off wireless access? Yes. Should the school probably do it anyway? I don't know, but I'm leaning toward yes.
While in class, I usually manage to limit my use of the wireless connection to checking e-mail in the background (I have Thunderbird set to check every five minutes). But I understand just as much as the next person that some classes are just dreadfully boring, and that class time is made infinitely more entertaining if you are visiting your favorite websites or instant messaging friends in the back row.
The problem with this is that it is incredibly distracting to the rest of the class, equally distracting as carrying on an oral conversation in the middle of the lecture. It's nearly impossible not to look when the laptop a row in front of you keeps flashing: windows open and close, images scroll across the screen. It's easy to counter, "If you don't like it, don't look," but it's just not that simple.
I would love to see professors put the wireless connection to better use, perhaps inviting students to ask questions or offer comments via IM (rather than via the old-fashioned hand-raising method), or even creating class projects that require students to collaborate via the internet while in class. I haven't seen anything that innovative here (the University of Mississippi), however.