Just as every generation redefines what is obscene – Elvis’ gyrating hips seem so tame now - so too do we re-evaluate etiquette. That’s why Miss Manners will never lack for work.
I think it’s rude when my kids are with one friend and texting another, but the teens themselves don’t seem to be offended. My “Love the one you’re with” lecture often falls on deaf ears.
So I suspect there will be a generational divide on this question: Should laptops and cell phones be allowed in college classrooms?
Josh Miller, a Lafayette College government professor, asked his colleagues that question after becoming frustrated with students who would text on their phones or surf the Internet on laptops during class.
Miller, who made it clear to me that he was speaking for himself and not the college, said it’s distracting and rude. He said he’s tried humor and making comments such as “I fear someone’s texting in here” so as not to make it personal. “That used to stop things for a while,” he wrote. “What's funny is that it doesn't work anymore. They just keep texting.”
It’s not just his classes. “I've been to two presentations this week and several kids around me were texting through the whole thing,” he said. “Tonight, during a panel presentation, one guy down the row from me used his computer for Facebook while texting on his phone. The guy next to him was playing solitaire on his computer. But then two kids nearby seemed to be using their computers to take notes.”
That last observation is why he hesitated to put a stop to all use of laptops in class – some people employ them for legitimate purposes.
Asked if texting is just this generation’s equivalent of doodling, Miller said he didn’t think so. You can doodle on paper and still be listening to a class discussion or lecture, but texting pulls away your focus. In that way it hinders discussions in class.
Other professors have told me that college students have developed more of a consumer mentality than they had back in the day. One college instructor told me that some of her students felt they shouldn’t have to come to class if they didn’t want to since they - or their parents - are paying for it.
Miller said some of the professors who responded to his query have a clear policy they put on their syllabus that there will be no cell phones or computers in use during class. He decided a couple of weeks ago to bar the use of electronics in class unless a student got special permission from the college dean.
I asked him early this week how his new ban is working. So far, pretty well.
“Texting is rude and distracting to the texter, professor and students,” he told me. “It will never stop completely in the classroom, just as it won't in lectures, homes, cars and movie theaters. But you can fight the good fight.”
So what do you think? Should cell phones and laptops be allowed in college classrooms? Take our poll posted below and add your comments.