I feel a little left out of the whole proposed on-campus smoking ban, because I don’t smoke. Even the students I know who do smoke mostly live off-campus already, and there aren’t a huge number of them to begin with — as social issues go, smoking is a bit passé. If you really wanted to make a statement with your ban, you would ban something modern, something integral to student life, something that hasn’t already been banned in every indoor space in the country — you would ban the internet.
Banning the internet, at least in classroom buildings and lecture halls, would affect at least 85 percent of all Yale students. That number is based on a very unscientific poll that I took by looking at all the laptop screens I could see in my lecture this morning, most of which were occupied not by note-taking apparati but by emails, games of Snake on Facebook, and the reading that students forgot to do last night. And the effect would be positive: just like the smoking ban is designed to make Yale students healthier, an internet ban would make people smarter. No more escaping the professor’s words of wisdom by turning to the myriad offerings of cyberspace: you’ll listen, and you’ll learn and by God you’ll like it.
I’m actually a little surprised that something like this hasn’t been proposed already. In the course of six semesters at Yale, I have had exactly one class where internet access was prohibited: David Scott Kastan’s “Shakespeare: Histories and Tragedies,” from which he banned all laptops on the first day. There were no mass riots, no shopping exodus: he wasn’t run out of town on a rail of twisted Ethernet cables. People simply took notes by hand, in notebooks — it was actually a little eerie to hear him give lecture after lecture unaccompanied by the clacking symphony of computer keys.
I can say with complete sincerity that I would know 50 percent less about Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies if I had been able to use my laptop in that class. On the other hand, I would probably know about 10 percent more than I do now if I’d had my laptop but not had internet access — in other words, if I had been able to type my notes rather than handwriting them. That perfect combination — keyboard, no wireless signal — is why the YUAG lecture hall, despite its horrific lighting and sad, clipboard-esque excuses for writing surfaces, is my favorite lecture hall at Yale. There, I can use a laptop without fear — anywhere else, if I want to forcibly remove myself from the temptation of the internet, I have to write by hand. Often, my notes look like alien hieroglyphics or the musings of a baby on acid.
I do battle with a spiral notebook in every lecture I have, though, because I’ve realized that my addiction to the internet, while it may not threaten a lung-cancerous future, does have a noticeable effect on my grades. I find it hard to concentrate even on something as interesting as a new episode of “30 Rock” if my laptop’s open in front of me; the coolest lecture of all time wouldn’t stand a chance. There’s always that split-second lull, during which I decide to briefly check my email or Facebook-stalk the person in front of me. Everything goes downhill from there.
Maybe I’m the only one who has this problem, but my decidedly unscientific poll of my classmates says otherwise. Even if we still manage to pull straight A’s — helped along by a friend’s notes, or a team’s archive of midterms or the gut list — we’re not exactly getting our money’s worth out of Yale.
A smoking ban is a terrible idea not because smoking is awesome, but because smoking is a personal choice totally unrelated to Yale or our experience here. Ignoring a lecture in favor of Twitter is also a personal choice, but it’s not one made in isolation. Ostensibly, we came to Yale to learn. If the campus-wide wireless internet access that tour guides talk about so perkily is making learning harder, then that might actually be a ban worth considering.