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The Cellphone Glued to Your Hand

I'm a student, so as such, it should surprise no one to learn I spend a lot of my week in classrooms. I have to sit next to fellow students who give varying degrees of a damn about the class they're in. Most of them look fairly normal, they appear to care enough to try something new, and all of them sound pretty intelligent. You'll actually find if you sit down and talk to anyone for a while that whoever you talk to probably comes across as intelligent, but I digress.

The one thing most of these students have in common is their inability to put away their cellphone. These days, most students carry a smartphone, but the choice seems to affect little. The proclivity to whip out a phone mid class to text friends or browse Facebook appears the same among smartphone and feature phone users. This distracts me and anyone else not staring at a phone every waking moment.1 It disrespects the classroom and the idea of learning something when one believes a response to Eric's message, "hey hw u doin wanna hang out 2nite," takes precedence over a 50 minute to hour and a half class.

I study English, so many of my classes involve workshops — we focus on helping each other, fostering a small community in a classroom. To disrupt it with the constant vibration of a phone and one's noticeable shuffle to grab the phone inside the backpack, conveniently laid on the desk in front of him or her to hide the phone, shows a sad lack of care for that community. In writing courses, most of us hope to become better writers. We wouldn't take courses with such loose guidelines otherwise, though I grant some may take the workshop because they feel they can pass it easily.2 The same goes for other classes: the phone disturbs others, makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand, and makes the phone-obsessed difficult to work with.

I can't say whether the phone harms students using it, nor if their grades suffer. Phones help in class too, so one shouldn't ditch the little device. Folks can use them for plenty of good: looking up definitions, finding information the instructor or another student couldn't recall, and other little situations. Smartphones can make one more productive with their easy access to information. Facebook does not. Texting does not. These students should show up, put their minds in the class mentally as well as physically, and respect the time others put into the class.

So if you find yourself ogling your phone in class, please stop yourself. Shut out your outside life in class and try to respect your classmates for the remainder of the class. We'd like to make it through without hoping a bus hit you on the way to class. One can't avoid emergencies, but Brad's wicked awesome keg stand can wait, much like his business degree.

  1.  My preferences seem rare enough these days, and I accept my sentiments won't carry into the future. I care for social networks and text messaging as much as I do waking up at 5 to 6 AM. Sometimes it's worthwhile, most times it feels like an obligation — the latter doesn't fit personal relationships. 

  2. These students often experience the most difficulty passing workshops.  The easiest way to get a grade is to know the exact requirements to achieve one. Workshop courses typically employ a variety of measures one can't chart out in a spreadsheet to determine the level of effort and care they spend in each class meeting. 

Life-Hacking Avoids Life

The most productive people I know have never been the sort to find value in life hacking.1 In fact, most of the folks I know who try to make use of life hacks are the least productive people I know. It becomes an obsession for them, a sort of obtuse thing to pride themselves on. Their claims to efficiency might be true if they spend their time working instead of trying to improve their efficiency. They remind me of programmers who spend time mainly optimizing and obsessing over tiny details, ignoring whether they actually have anything that works.

You can only avoid life and productive hobbies or work by obsessing over efficiency and productivity. If you spend your time setting up calendars, jerry-rigging little alarms and baits for you to do work, constructing little plots to trick youself into working, you’re really not working. You’re avoiding work. You are doing what the rest of us procrastinators have already learned to do, only you’re doing even less. While I avoided my work by vacuuming or doing the laundry, which are productive but less important, you set up fifty timers telling you when to work and break, probably dangled a sausage from a string, and come up with thirty playlists for working. Your efforts amount to tapping your fingers against a desk and thinking of kittens.2

So how do you improve your efficiency? Stop your attempts to improve it. If you procrastinate, accept that you procrastinate, and let your conscience do the heavy lifting. It inevitably wins out unless you’re a torture-proof superspy. When you need to work, do the work. No, you may not think you’re at peak efficiency, but you never will be. The sausages you’ve dangled from the ceiling won’t promote efficiency, they’ll just stink up the place after you’ve gotten into the work and forgotten about that meaty bait above your head.

This comes with a caveat: you can do little things to improve your efficiency. For example, calendars can help, but try to remember they’re to remind you of things ahead of time, not to get you to do things now. They’re taking the contents of your mind and placing them safely in a linear order so you know what work to do. The sausage, however, will never work. Take it off the string, eat it, and get back to work.

  1. Life hacking refers to the practice of coming up with little ways in which you can supposedly make yourself more productive or efficient. They are typically unusual solutions or psychological tricks, though it varies from person to person. 

  2. Or maybe even less than that. Your conscience might kick in and get you to work if your mind idles on kittens. If you convince yourself to do something to make your work more efficient, you’re really telling your conscience to shut up. You’ve lied to yourself. 

Switching to A Trackpad

I recently decided to switch to a bluetooth Apple trackpad as my primary mouse device thingy. Considering how useful gestures are on Mac OS and whatnot, it works out a lot better nowadays than a regular mouse. I'll have to keep the old one around for the occasional Windows venture.1

Fullscreen mode is also pleasant when I have only one screen (which if I've been playing Dark Souls, I've hooked my other monitor up to the PS3), though I still insist it's a fairly useless mode on Mac OS. Without proper multi-monitor support, it's pointless, as you'll inevitably end up with a single monitor displaying a cute textured background. However, Mac OS has had pretty good virtual desktop support for a while, and it's still plenty useful. Switching between them via the keyboard is less than pleasant, though, so gestures come in handy there.

The only other mouse I have is an old Logitech mouse -- not sure what kind, it has no name printed on it -- and it's bugging out at random. The poor old thing will randomly begin resetting itself at times, and I've never figured out what triggers it. In addition, the USB dongle to connect it is incredibly weak. Its range is fairly limited, and it's very easy to interfere with the signal (placing any object in front of it usually does the trick). I've had to keep fairly unusual dongle placement just to maintain a persistent connection. For example, using an extra USB cable to plug it in and hang the dongle over the top of my secondary monitor.

  1. Windows hates trackpads. 

The Initial Post

This is a brief test of the emergency blog test posting system. Do not be alarmed. This is a test. I repeat, this is a test. Your face will melt into hues of violet and cyan, a meat puddle streaming down your face as the grass whispers to your feet the song of the old ones, the dirt ones. You continue to melt, the liquid meat evaporates, leaving a thin vapor of plasticine nerve juice and a solid, charcoal brain.

The process completes.

This has been a brief test of the emergency blog test posting system.