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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A quiet life

Published: January 24, 2013
Section: Opinions

I sometimes wonder to myself what university life would be like without social media, smart phones, or the Internet. A shocking proposition indeed, but one that attests to the plethora of ways social media has us locked in.

It would be a world without constant notices from Facebook, from housing requests to party events. Twitter feeds would stop chirping. Would you wallow in loneliness without such news feeds and chat devices? How would we even be able to access course readings at all hours of the day without LATTE? Having been without a laptop for a few days as it undergoes repairs, I’ve realized the challenges that arise without such technologies.

With so much reliance on the Web, and our cell phones, I can say that even a few days without them has left me in a bit of a daze. I know this may sound a bit overdramatic, but take a look in a classroom and see how many laptops are out. Whether they are pulling up course readings or taking notes—or checking Facebook—many students find the use of a laptop vital both in and out of a classroom setting. Technology has become such a central form of communication to this generation, that at times, I question the need for actually talking on the phone or going to the library to check out a book when it’s all in the palm of our hand, a few clicks away on the computer.

When computers or cellphones don’t work, there is a frenzy of how one will get their work done in a timely manner. You actually have to schedule time to use the library computers; it’s not something someone with a laptop thinks about all too often.

Entire online colleges have been built on the power of Internet, where lectures can be viewed either live or via transcript.

Brandeis is a residential, bricks-and-mortar campus institution. But this does not mean that the university does not utilize social media and the Web as much as possible. From cell phone apps to the aforementioned LATTE to its emergency alert system, Brandeis has made use of the different fast-growing technologies. Who knows what percentage of the school’s current staff and resources will be entirely digital in 20 years?

Socially-speaking, laptops are used to stay connected. Without a cellphone or computer it is hard to get in touch with family and friends. Smartphone users have email and the Web in their hands at all times, making us even more susceptible to surrendering completely to technological devices. Most of us know the feeling of frustration going into a tech store for repair, and being a little too grateful when the repair is instantly successful.

But that social media and the Web is all useful. For one, it is a very impersonal way of connecting. When one relies too much on email to connect with professors and professionals, for instance, this comes across as lazy. It is still important to go and put yourself out there, and not replace social media as a way of connecting. It can also be a distraction, because while you’re doing homework it is tempting to want to see what everyone else is up too online.

It is hard to find a balance, because so much is online and an anticipated five-minute break can turn to an hour of Internet surfing. This is nothing new and there have been studies done showing a heavy reliance on social media by college students. Certain schools such as University of Michigan have developed online programs that engage students while they are in class. US news reported on this software called “LectureTools” that allows students to use their laptops in class in a productive manner.

It seems to me like these types of programs really make sense. Different professors have different rules regarding laptops. A lot of the professors see them as a distraction as they catch students wandering off onto sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The dilemma is that more and more Internet sites will be created, thus creating more and more temptation to pull up another tab in class and surf the Web. Yet, why not link students on the Internet with programs such as LectureTools.

It is without a doubt that many other programs like this are being developed. Hopefully, more Brandeis classrooms will see this sort of technology as positive, making the most use of it in the classroom.