Cell phones, ipods and knowing when to quit…

multi-tasking

multi-tasking

Apparently, some UBC profs are getting sick of competing with cell phones and electronic devices in their classes. The proposed solution? Block wireless access in the classroom!  What? In my mind, this is like using a taser to solve a conflict.  What happened to discussion? Negotiation? Talking about the problem?

At Syracruse University, one such frustrated prof decided to stop teaching when students are texting. This sparked some interesting discussion among the readers of Inside Higher Ed. and (I’m sure) among his colleagues and students.  Maybe this wasn’t the most mature way to handle the problem, but I’m sure he wasn’t the first to feel this way.

I agree that the indiscriminate use of cell phones and other gadgets seems to have led to an epidemic of rudeness that is hard to fathom sometimes. I’ve witnessed genuinely kind and socially responsible people cross that line more than once in meetings and even during conversations and I’ve felt the sting of being on the receiving end of the rude behavior. Am I that boring? Was it something I said? Are you just not interested?

The problem is that we don’t talk about it, examine the consequences or draw our own lines when it comes to using these tools in situations where others are involved. And I can almost here the collective cry the “multi-tasking” is an important and necessary behavior.  I don’t buy it.  Multi-tasking (to the level that we seem to find acceptable these days) is freying us, wearing us down and (probably, in some way) leading to the downfall of civilization (OK, maybe that was an overstatement).  Besides, we’ve always multi-tasked to some extent, or day dreamed or doodled. But when you pull out your cell to text your friend or colleague in the middle of a lecture, or  you subject your fellow bus-riders or grocery line standers to a raging conversation about a wall post gone wrong on Facebook – you’ve crossed a line. Your departure from caring about the people around you has become obvious and (in that sense) it’s just plain rude.

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