The art of paying attention

One fateful Wednesday afternoon, I decided to sit in on my best friend’s biology lecture. I’ll admit I was looking for a way to completely avoid doing my math assignment that was due the next week, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I made excuses as to why sitting in on this hour-long biology lecture with 250 people in it was better than doing my assignment. My friend and I were carpooling and if things got ridiculously boring — which they did — I decided that I could always whip out my assignment and give it a go. I was delighted that instead of having to drag myself to Dafoe Library, I could freely sit in the back of this lecture.

As I made myself comfortable in the lecture hall, everyone around me seemed ready and willing to learn. Laptops turned on, notebooks opened with the date neatly written in the corner, pages of freshly printed PowerPoint notes ready to be highlighted. As the professor walked in, a hush fell across the room.

Ten minutes into the lecture, my mind decided that Tim Horton’s was a must afterwards. Fifteen minutes into the lecture, I noticed that many of the students in the lecture hall had let their mind wander as well.

It should be known that the professor in this particular biology lecture was very good at connecting with approximately the first five or six rows in the hall. Beyond that it was a free-for-all of students doing what they wanted, when they wanted and how they wanted.

Slowly but surely, cell phones started popping up around me. I personally know the feeling of being in a lecture and going through your BlackBerry messenger and looking for anyone — and I mean anyone — to talk to. Even if it means striking up a conversation with that weird girl you once knew in high school, only to drop the conversation as soon as the class ends.

I witnessed a girl in front of me desperately trying to beat her Brick Breaker score, a game known to many cell phone users, especially anyone with a BlackBerry. Judging by her unusually high score, I can only assume she had spent many lectures before perfecting her skills.

After watching her demolish level after level, I turned my attention to the people using laptops, one of them being my best friend. The majority of laptops went from PowerPoint notes to anything but PowerPoint notes. Facebook.com profiles, Yahoo.com email accounts, music playlists, blogs, JUMP accounts — the list goes on.

My friend even searched Google images so she could show me how much the biology professor resembled a Bill Nye the Science Guy/Pringles mascot hybrid. Yes, our boredom had reached a new level.

I began to wonder why so many people were so disengaged with the lecture. Is it because all the notes are readily available on a student’s ANGEL account? Were the students uninterested because the teacher couldn’t possibly have made a connection with all of them? And if the teacher can’t see you goofing off then you may as well goof off, right?

In smaller classes a professor can kindly, or not so kindly, ask you to put away a cell phone or tell you that your laptop is distracting. But not in this biology lecture — the professor probably doesn’t even know you exist.

As my mind raced with these many possibilities, the usual rustling of backpacks and closing of laptops commenced and I knew the class was over. I looked down at my opened notebook, only to realize that I hadn’t completed one question of my math assignment.

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