Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Music of the Laptops

Clickety clack. Tap tap tap. Clickety clack. Taptaptaptaptap. Clackclackclackclackclack.

I looked around. What was that noise? Where was it coming from?

It was fairly dark in Kresge Auditorium. I had arrived at the University Band concert a bit late, pleasantly surprised that they were between pieces, so I had been able to slip right in, neither having to wait (impatiently, it would have been in my case) outside the door, nor being tempted to violate the classical-music tradition (and School of Music rule) that one enters a concert hall only between pieces.

I’d been delighted to discover that the next piece was Music for Winds, Piano, and Percussion by James Beckel, principal trombonist of the Indianapolis Symphony, a marvelous composer, and an adjunct faculty member here at DePauw.

The music started and so did the noise. What the hell was it? As my eyes adjusted to the dark I looked around and saw the culprit.

A young woman at her laptop.

DePauw requires every incoming student to purchase a laptop, loaded with University-selected software (some proprietary to DePauw). And we pride ourselves that the entire campus, even the concert halls and theatres, is wireless. The dorms, the lobbies, the bathrooms—I don’t think there’s any indoor space where one cannot connect to the Internet. And with so many wireless transmitters in so many buildings, many of the outdoor spaces are wireless-accessible as well.

So there she was, typing away. But how was she making so much noise doing it? Most keyboards, especially on the University-mandated laptops, are very quiet. But this was a very percussive sound.

She was sitting a the far left end of the row in front of me, and there was no one else to the left of me, so I quietly walked over (we were towards the back in a relatively unpopulated area), and quickly had my answer: four-inch nails, which curled forward. They were making the noise as they hit the keys.

I whispered to her, with my professorial and paternal authority-figure energies combined, “I’m sorry, but you are making too much noise. You need to stop typing or go outside.” The trick in this sort of situation, where you don’t have any official authority (or aren’t sure that you do) is to speak with total confidence. She gave me a look that combined surprise with who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are attitude. I whispered, “thanks,” and walked back to my seat, hoping I hadn’t whispered so loudly that I had created more distraction that I had stopped. The young woman evidently decided that I might be whoever the hell I thought I was, and/or that I was right about the noise. After a bit of consideration, and a quick bit of typing (probably signing off to whomever she was exchanging instant messages with) she closed the lid of her laptop.

Beckel’s piece was wonderful, as was the rest of the program. But every once in a while thoughts of Margert Soltan, of University Diaries, and her frequent diatribes against laptops in the classroom, floated into my mind. I must write a blog entry, I decided, about the four-inch nails and the instant-messaging student. Here's to you, Margaret.

(Maybe the nails were only two inches.)


PWA said...

Some students seem to think it's okay to send text messages from their phones during concerts, too...even when they're on the stage with other performers! I sing with a couple of semi-pro choral groups affiliated with a metro-Detroit area college. During a recent showcase concert featuring all of the school's affiliated student and pro-am groups, a couple of students were seen (by other performers) "texting" friends--from the stage, while other groups were performing. They seemed genuinely puzzled when they were called on it; their rationale was that they were not making any noise (not entirely true) and that they weren't texting while they were supposed to be playing or singing. (Their respective groups' directors now know to include "no on-stage texting" in their pre-concert etiquette instructions!) I also heard this from a cellist friend who played a Christmas gig as a ringer for a youth orchestra accompanying a local men's choir: near the end of the heart-stoppingly beautiful "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" (Randall Thompson), a cell phone began ringing...inside the pocket of one of the on-stage high school string players. Yow!

Carolyn-Anne Templeton said...

I've only texted someone once during a concert... and that was a very quick 'Where r u?!' because I knew that she was supposed to be there :) And I felt incredibly guilty about that...

But on the topic of computers in classrooms, I find no problems with computers in an actual classroom setting- mainly because you can not pay attention just as well without a computer as you can with one. However, I've been rather annoyed lately with the amount of computer use in inappropriate situtations. I've also come across people taking laptops to concerts, which I find both tacky and distracted (with or without the typing, the computer produces quite a bit of light... if I'm sitting behind the computer, I find myself distracted by the shiny object). It's incredibly disrespectful. I think part of this, however, can be attributed to Depauw's recital attendance policy. I know a lot of students, particularly double degree students such as myself, who end up taking homework to the recitals that they're just attending to be checked off, because they don't have the time to complete their homework otherwise. I've only done this once (which was a reading assignment), but I think this has transferred to computers... I've heard of students writing papers during concerts. This has also extended to other areas that I find inappropriate- one student in particular, always takes his laptop to my studio class. It would be one thing if he were using it as a last resort to take notes on (something that I've done before), but he always sits in front, so I know for a fact that he's either on facebook, or, on one particularly annoying occasion, gossiping about the person singing with someone on IM. I was so angry!

I suppose it's just a matter of respect- the ubiquity of communication technology does not change that.

Emily said...

clack clack

clickety click

clack click.

Good work, man.