Disconnected: Happier to Know Less?
By Gabriel Martinez, August 22, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, Outside the Classroom

I read about a recent book, "Hamlet's BlackBerry", based on a 2006 essay, on my BlackBerry, while waiting for my little son to fall asleep.  I just needed something to do in the semi-darkness.  Incapable of talking to anyone or reading a book, I turned to the digital age for some mindless passtime.

The book, it turns out, is about how mindless passtimes digitally provided prevent us from talking to anyone or doing good things like reading books (the essay's subtitle is "Why Paper Is Eternal").  It counsels us to disconnect ourselves from our gadgets (at least occasionally).  A disconnected gizmo is a happier gizmo because it doesn't fill itself up with useless data.

Perhaps most of us would agree with the book's moderate philosophy of regular (but not constant) disconnection, a happy medium between not knowing anything and having to know everything.

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Lee Trepanier on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:40 am

The recent movement against technology - anti-blackberry, the internet changes the way we think for the worse, constantly being connected, etc. - seems to me misplaced. Technology itself is neither good nor bad. What needs to be addressed is how we instill moderation in our character to use technology effectively.

John Colman on Aug 25, 2010 at 6:48 am

I would disagree with the idea that technology is somehow neutral and it all depends on how it is used. In many instances the introduction of a new technology replaces an older one. The example of email comes to mind. Email is not neutral in so far as it has effectively killed letter writing. Technology also shapes how we look at the world, how we understand the world and how we behave. The corruption, for lack of a better, of language, not to mention writing, I would argue has attended our connectedness. I would amend one of your sentences Gabriel to read "A disconnected mind is a happy mind because it doesn't fill itself up with useless data.

I don't see how being connected has anything to do with knowing more or less. I very much doubt that the internet and the gizmos that facilitate our connection to it have increased knowledge. I would go so far as to say that more disconnection might facilitate greater thoughtfulness. More disconnection might make for more genuine connectedness.

Gabriel Martinez on Aug 25, 2010 at 7:00 am

Funny you should say that through to your connection to the internet. Ironies abound.

John Colman on Aug 25, 2010 at 7:04 am

I would not exempt myself from the perils of the connected age. My hope for the coming year is to disconnect more frequently and for longer periods than I have managed in the past. My own personal experience is that my mind has not been served well by the internet.

Lee Trepanier on Aug 26, 2010 at 3:59 am

At least in the classroom, technology is simply a different - and in some cases, more effective - way of communicating information to students, whether it is by email, videos, or music. Now granted, technology is used ineffectively and improperly in the classroom (one can think of power-point presentations done poorly), but this has to do with the user rather than the technology itself. Technology cannot replace certain skills taught in the classroom, like good writing or critical thinking, but I don't see it as a barrier to teaching these skills.

TLC on Aug 31, 2010 at 4:09 am

Gabriel, Ironic perhaps, but not contradictory. Just as the Socratic critique of writing comes in a written dialogue, so one can see one's way clear of the computer through the computer, or rather, come to see how when and for what such s tool can be well used through a screen. Lee may be correct, that there can be good or bad uses of any given technology, but this is to say almost nothing. There are probably good uses of nuclear bombs. John is right, we have to see our way clear of the 'tool-user/technology is neutral' mantra, and carefully reflect on the costs, especially the costs on our souls, the least visible but most important costs, of apparent conveniences. The critique of the internet/digital revolution is that its typical use encourages habits of mind and general societal trends that work against wakefulness, independence of mind, and quality work. I would add that in the university, email has very quickly become a necessity, and therefore it is no longer a 'free choice' to use it or not. The same is becoming true of digital classroom tech. Thus we are all forced to bear the consequences whatever they may be. As for its use in the classroom, Lee might be right that it is not a barrier, but with students who are plugged in all the time, it makes sense to me to show the students that humans can do without.

Gabriel Martinez on Aug 31, 2010 at 5:49 am

For what it's worth, here's my laptop policy, included in every one of my syllabi:

"The use of laptop computers during class may be banned, permanently or temporarily, for all students or for a selected few, at any point during the semester."

I also tell them that I'm unlikely to apply this rule, but that I will apply it if it becomes clear that it has become a distraction to their own learning or to that of their fellows. I also do an impression of a student writing on Facebook while supposedly taking notes.

about the author

Gabriel Martinez
Gabriel Martinez

I am Associate Professor of Economics and Chairman of the Department of Economics at Ave Maria University. I have been in the Economics Department since its beginning and have taught over fifteen different courses at Ave Maria University, particularly in the areas of macroeconomics, international economics, development economics, Catholic social teaching, economic history, and social philosophy. My two favorite courses to teach are Intermediate Macroeconomics and Markets, State, and Institutions.

My work is in the general area of international finance and open-economy macroeconomics, with a focus on developing countries. My dissertation focused on the 1999 economic collapse in Ecuador,using a combination of historical, theoretical, and empirical analyses. My paper on the role of deregulation, moral hazard, and overconfidence in the Ecuadorian financial crisis was published by the Cambridge Journal of Economics. Financial crises are a perennial topic, with causes that are complex and deep, inextricably intermingled with politics and ethics. My Ph.D. is from the University of Notre Dame.