The NYT wrings its hands on behalf of university teachers whose WiFi-equipped classrooms are filled with students who are IMming, emailing, and surfing rather than listening. Oh, boo hoo. When I was a university student (dropped out of four schools!), there were profs to whom you listened with rapt attention and profs with whom you marked time, listening with half an ear for material that seemed likely to end up on a final. I suspect it was ever thus. I speak at universities all the time, and I actually use the degree to which my audience is digging into their laptops to guage whether I'm covering a topic well or losing the crowd. Profs who bore their students and blame laptops don't get a lot of sympathy from me — if you can't convince a room full of young people who've committed to a lifetime of debt in order to cram their heads with useful knowledge and skills to pay attention, it's time to re-evaluate your material and methods.
A young man looked at sports photos while a woman checked out baby photos that just arrived in her e-mailbox.
The screens provide a silent commentary on the teacher's attention-grabbing skills. The moment he loses the thread, or fumbles with his own laptop to use its calculator, screens flip from classroom business to leisure. Students dash off e-mail notes and send instant messages. A young man who is chewing gum shows an amusing e-mail message to the woman next to him, and then switches over to read the online edition of The Wall Street Journal.