Yesterday I decided to camp out at the Salzmann Library, in part because I needed a change of scenery and in part because I was eager to take advantage of the fact that all of their Loeb Classical Library volumes are located IN ONE PLACE (more on that in another post, for those who care).
I only planned to be there for a few hours, so I didn’t bring the power cord for my laptop. Little did I know that the Conclave would elect the new pope while I was there, and that I would be drawn into streaming the video feed to my laptop. Needless to say, my battery went a bit quicker than it normally does once I started in on the video. Now, because this is a Catholic seminary library, they also decided to close early so that the employees could attend a Mass in honor of the new pope … so, I found myself tossed out into the cold (literally), with about 10% battery life and about two hours of work left to do.
Rather than waste time going back home to get my power cord, I decided to head to a coffee shop and try to get some work done without my laptop. As I sat with my notepad and began to write, I was reminded of the benefits of taking an occasional break from the screen. In an hour’s time, I filled up two sheets, front and back, single spaced, with notes, brief outlines, and even a few prose paragraphs that found their way into the dissertation this morning. The absence of my laptop seems to have actually boosted my productivity.
For graduate students (like myself) who have become tied to their technology in one way or another, the idea of leaving the computer behind so that they can get work done sounds patently absurd. “Everything I need is on my laptop (or iPad, or whatever) and online,” we will say. “How can I accomplish anything without the internet?” The truth of the matter is that everything we need isn’t actually on our laptops and online. Some of what we need is already in our brains, waiting for an outlet.
To be sure, laptops provide a medium for productivity, but they also foster procrastination in all its forms, be it e-mail, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Hulu, Facebook, writing and reading blog posts, the dreaded Wikipedia rabbit hole, etc. Pen and paper can also serve as an outlet for our thoughts, but with the added benefit of not encouraging us to become distracted by shiny things on the internet.