Desktop environment

Life at the U of C might be better—or at least more productive— without a laptop.

By Eliana Pfeffer

Recently, I’ve started leaving my laptop at home. “Why?” people ask, sometimes more than slightly horrified. I usually respond with some sort of shrug, and often they’ll continue with, “But how do you get any work done when you’re not in your room?” The first time I heard this I paused, confused. Do people actually get work done on their computers? Is it just me who’s so easily distracted by the Internet and every single program I have on my laptop? That can’t be right—I have empirical evidence! While working in the Reg, I often see someone plop down, open a math book, turn on his or her computer to shoot off a few e-mails, check Facebook compulsively, sign on to AIM, and play around for an age before packing up, looking glumly at the textbook, still open to the exact same page it was hours ago, and leaving. Meanwhile, I’ve fiddled around with my ZEN a few times, but have otherwise gotten quite a bit of drafting done, even if it’s all longhand and I’ll have to transcribe it later. But really. It used to be that I’d return to my room after class (perks of living right on the quads, I guess), settle down by my desk, and open up my computer to check my e-mail (just a few seconds before I get to work, really!) and then quickly shut the browser; then, I’d think about all the work I had yet to do and would shut off my computer entirely. For, you know, about the three whole minutes it took me to decide that, yes, I really need to use to my computer to outline my Sosc essay—I can’t possibly write it all out! I also need Gmail and Facebook, just in case someone needs to reach me. And Google, for all the miscellaneous Sosc-related questions I might have. And The New York Times online. And xkcd. And all the other wonderful things the Internet brings me. Two hours later? My Sosc paper is still an empty document, and I’m exhausted. My computer has become a ridiculously important part of my life—growing up, I had one in my room because my mother’s office was going to get rid of some of the older models they had lying around, and we volunteered to take one off their hands. So I ending up playing tons of games—my parents bought me everything from Math Invaders (I loved that one) to Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (oh, the Pizza Pass!), and I’d sit in my room for hours and hours, fascinated by the glowing characters on the screen. My computer was, hands down, my favorite thing in the world (especially after my brother surgically removed all the heads on my Barbie dolls, because, as he put it, they had “headaches” and obviously this was the only remedy), and as I got older, this didn’t change. The first birthday gift I got upon entering middle school was a laptop. While it wasn’t exactly the best model out there—it weighed far too much to be easily transported and the battery didn’t last very long—it was mindblowing. Now, I could take my games and my journal entries everywhere, and upon discovering the Internet, I spent hours playing around, reading stories and searching (oh, the days of Alta Vista) for anything that struck my fancy. This laptop was eventually replaced by another, and then another, as my computer started coming to school with me, and reports had to be typed. The Internet exploded: Suddenly I spoke to my friends more through AIM than I ever did in school, and I was plugged in to a whole new kind of culture—one of videos shared en masse, and newspapers, blogs, Facebook. Then, I got here. I brought my computer to class and, much like in high school, I sometimes had the irresistible urge to check whether, within the last few seconds, a friend had decided to shoot me a message—one I might just have to read at that very moment. And sometimes, I was able to restrain myself. Not always, though, and I’d get distracted and realize, after a few moments, that I’d completely lost the train of thought bouncing around the room. The first time that happened, I disabled my wireless, frustrated with myself. Now, I just leave my computer on my desk. So for the four years that I’m here, I think I’ll unplug myself. …after I update my Facebook status accordingly. Eliana Pfeffer is a first-year in the College.