Sunday, November 16, 2008

Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Computer

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 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.


Alison M. Kilmartin said...

As someone who's data WAS "stolen" so to speak, but not by someone I could beat up to get it back, I fully understand the fervor with which the 1L fought for his data.

David Hutchinson said...

Before getting to the 'what hath technology wrought' part of this comment, I note that the linked story was interesting.

Sporting of the robber not to knock the sleeping student unconsious and then steal his stuff. Rather,courting Darwin's judgment, he chose to wake the student and then threaten to knock him unconscious if he should try to impede the taking of his stuff. I could see a robber doing that if he needed a mac password or the combination to a safe, but not to steal things which couldn't have been hard to find.

Let's hope the robber bows to Darwin and takes the preferred lesson from this episode that he should hang up his bat, and not the fell lesson that his mistake was not being sufficiently ruthless.

But way to go law student. That's the correct way to be jealous of your rights.

Regarding computers in the classroom:

First I pause to object to the word (I deny the awful thing that status and extend it here only for ease of reference)'co-present'; for God's sake.

If we grant that use of the computer in the classroom for purposes other than work related to the course is a distraction to other students (and so not to be overlooked as a private choice), I propose this solution:

At the start of next semester, each professor should, mid lecture, say something like this: "What I'm about to say will not be on the exam", anyone who is typing during what the professor says next is to surrender their computer use for the duration of that course.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

I want to note that while the action taken by the 1L to save his computer is fascinating, the student could very easily have ended up badly injured himself. I think a good practice (ahem, Ms. Kilmartin!) is to back-up our work early and often.

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