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2010-03-20
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The Aid and Distraction of Technology

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Tagged As: Blog and Technology

Technology has certainly become an integral part of our lives. Business folks are inextricably connected to their Blackberries and always looking at them both for work and for idle distraction. Most everyone else seems tied into their iPhone or equivalent. College students can hardly be separated from their laptops unless distracted by sex or alcohol. And they usually have no problem being connected as many universities have gone for full wireless coverage and no longer look at you funny if you bring a laptop to class. That is, unless you're at a small but growing list of universities that have begun banning them. Many professors, noting that laptops are becoming less used for notes and more used for in-class distraction, have started banning laptops and forcing students to take notes the caveman way, with writing implements.

Handspring Visor - image from Wikipedia.

I remember trying to use a laptop on a few occasions for taking notes in class ages ago and it didn't last long. It wasn't because I couldn't type, I can often type fast enough to literally transcribe word for word business meetings.1 As one of the only computers I actually felt the typing was distracting to everyone else plus in many of my classes, I couldn't capture a key diagram or circuit drawing which meant I needed pencil and paper anyway. Perhaps a touchscreen tablet with a viable bit of software would be useful, but I would side with the professors that a laptop isn't that useful for taking notes (most people I know don't type fast enough anyway). Not too much later, USMA issued every one of the computer science cadets a Handspring Visor soliciting our feedback as to whether a tool like this was useful for cadets and lieutenants. Considering it's lack of good apps (relative to today) I was surprised I tried so hard to make it useful.2 All it really did for me was add to my agreement that it's a distraction since I was busy linking it through my cell phone to get wireless Internet at an awesome 28.8kbps. Other than an addressbook, calendar and email, a smartphone isn't exactly that useful of a tool for the sake of business in the sense that it certainly doesn't need to be out during meetings. I can't stand when we present material to a client only to see them staring into their laps typing vigorously with their thumbs (is my work that good for you or do you have a cell phone down there?). What do you think - useful in appropriate places or useful everywhere?


1 That was particularly funny because I typed fast enough to include more than just exact dialogue but also side notes about mannerisms - my transcription read like a play where a particular client became frustrated and red-faced while slapping the table and pointing angrily at a colleague. At first, my team thought it was hilarious and used to read my minutes for entertainment to mutually laugh about our inept clients back in the teamroom. But I was eventually told to stop capturing so much because the client read our minutes (I didn't know) and they were embarrassed having their behavior forever recorded in the project's archive.

2 It eventually died during a field exercise in Korea where we were out during a typhoon. "Not Waterproof" = "Not Useful" for an army lieutenant.



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