Yale prof prompts technological anarchy

Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2001

By James Warren

Power(book) to the people! That’s the thrust of a nifty tale about the perils of technology, at least for one university professor, in the May-June issue of Lingua Franca, a wonderfully accessible look at the academic world.

Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, has been miffed about one aspect of a $100 million renovation of the law school, namely the wiring of all classrooms for the Internet. That act sounds downright progressive, the sort of change that any parent would seemingly support for their child.

Well, Ayres became chagrined at what he deemed abuse of the Internet during class, going so far as to urge the school to limit use of laptops to just the taking of notes. Students weren’t listening to him, or at least not as much as he desired, and instead were cruising the Net.

This prompted a rather comical back-and-forth, with some students indicating that being able to check out the Internet was a lure to even come to class, helping them stay awake and cutting down on time spent on homework.

Ayres shot back that he might designate a special section in the back of the room for those intent on surfing, in the process curbing the distractions he felt such surfing posed to other students.

Some students argued that Ayres, a big proponent of the free market, was missing the fact that they had a free market right to tune out if he was boring.

And, when he countered that they could be providing a disincentive to weaker students, who might watch the surfers at play and not feel they had to be listening, students said baloney, they were providing an incentive to him to improve his lectures.

There is no suggestion that a resolution is imminent to this Ivy League conundrum.

Quickly: May Working Woman profiles Liz Wetzel, 36, a hot General Motors designer who produced the new Buick Rendezvous, a sort-of sport-utility vehicle that is a dramatic departure from Buick’s solid, and drowsy, fleets of old. Among her other additions are a purse-holder tucked under the center console and a low windowsill height, partly aimed at relieving carsickness of kids in the back (who presumably will feel better if they can see out more easily). . . . May Ladies’ Home Journal picks up, a tad belatedly, on the growing industry of buying pharmaceutical online, focusing on the ease with which one can purchase virtually anything; in this case ordering and receiving five popular prescription drugs, like Viagra and Accutane, for buyers who don’t even exist. . . . In April 30 New Republic, journalist Gregg Easterbrook, who is very strong on environmental issues, argues that President Bush has been unfairly criticized for early decisions related to the environment, with the press downplaying decision such as his decision to uphold a broad regulation to force petroleum companies to get rid of most pollutants from diesel fuel. In fact, he concludes, Bush may have done a poor job of public relations so far, but “so far there are no meaningful differences between Bush’s environmental goals and those of Clinton and Gore.” … The spring issue of left-leaning Dissent, with its “After the Election-Plan B” cover, is a lively, if way too long, hodge-podge of proposals for what the opposition is to do during what for them are the Dark Days of Bush II. The best single piece is related, namely a Thomas Edsall review-essay on “the most volatile and influential constituency in American elections”ofthe past three decades, the white, moderate-income voters, most often without a college degree. Edsall’s breakdown of the November vote suggests that the Democratic Party can no longer depend heavily on working-class voters but must look to those citizens “in non-traditional relationships and families: urban and suburban singles, unmarried working mothers, gays and lesbians, the non-religious, and believers in abortions rights.”