Thursday, January 02, 2003

A great discussion on Instapundit on surfing in class. I don't really know what the fuss is about, but at least some people understand that it's just like any other potential distraction: playing solitaire, sleeping, doodling, reading a novel, knitting (all of which I've done in class). It's not fundamentally new, not even the ability to instant message your classmates, it's just electronic for a change. And certainly what matters is results. If you don't have the discipline or skill to pass your classes, surfing just isn't going to make that much of a difference once you're used to it. A minor temporary problem is novelty; kids who have already learned not to read books in class haven't yet learned not to read Web sites. I expect one semester to be more than enough for a student to figure out how much attention they need to pay to pass.

Similar discussions are going on here and therewith respect to IM/chat at the workplace and in meetings. I just met a technical journalist with years of experience looking at new technology, yet he had trouble believing that IM can actually help productivity. I don't know, the fact that I conduct almost all communication with my east coast developer via IM and he's a productive member of the team -- well it seems to work for me.

I think I mentioned, but it's worth mentioning again, the IETF had its first experiment with official chat rooms duplicating and augmenting the real meetings, although of course IETF meeting attendees have messaged each other privately during meetings for years. The feedback at the end (much of which took place during the chat room mirroring the huge plenary meeting) was very largely positive. Of course a few people complained that attendees may be distracting themselves. But isn't that their lookout? When attendees actually whisper to each other, the complaint is only that they may disturbing those who want to hear. When there's no worry of disturbing others, why is there now a new complaint?

Of course these new activities can provide a positive function augmenting the in-person event, but even as unredeeming an activity as solitaire may not be entirely worthless. I once thought for a while about how to handle a 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm weekly anthropology course in university. I was interested and wanted to learn, but knew I had a history of falling asleep during class. Rather than change my schedule, take pills or jack up on coffee, I just brought along knitting to every single class. With something to keep my hands busy (I can look away from my knitting 80% of the time or more), I paid more attention, proving this to the professor with relevant questions once or twice. And at the end I had a sweater, too.

I wish I could do this in more meetings, unfortunately I seem to have to educate each new set of colleagues that this helps me pay attention.

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