A thief broke into a first year law student's apartment armed with a baseball bat and threatened to "smash his head in." The student allowed the thief to take his wallet and guitar, but when the thief attempted to take the student's laptop, that was too much. The student sprang to action, wrested the bat away from the thief, and landed him in the emergency room. The story is reported at switched.com. The stress and pressure of law school should never be underestimated.
A law student's computer becomes an appendage in its own right. We rarely are separated from them for too long. Outlines, case briefs, class notes, and email are all part of our daily routine and are essential ingredients in a successful semester. No doubt portable computing technology makes law school life easier, but does being wired most hours of the day detract from education? We are a generation who is used to being plugged in, but being plugged into the virtual world may prevent us from being plugged into the environment (classes, conversations, home) physically present to us. Some sociologists see a positive correlation between the rise of connectivity and the decline of "social capital." In other words, they posit that as we are more connected through our computer screens, we lose connection with those who are co-present with us in the real world. (For more, see the Economist's Special Report on Mobility.)
In law school, the decline in social capital is a detached presence in the classroom; a decrease in the class collective, if you will. Certainly portable computing technology is efficiency-enhancing (a proficient typist can type more quickly than hand-write), and so the more insights can be captured coherently and legibly. On the other hand, being online (as opposed to just word-processing) is a distraction. Some have suggested banning computers in lectures, while others have recommended a wifi dead-zone in classrooms. The former seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water, and the latter seems paternalistic to me. After all, aren't we old enough to take ownership of our choices? Thoughts?
Thanks to Jim Vincent for the story tip. Illustration by Bell Mellor.