Productivity and Time-Wasting, Then and Now

At the great risk of sounding
like one more grumpy old man, albeit a Pomona College-educated one, I would
like to seriously discuss the question of time well spent. Did I spend it more efficiently back in the 1940s compared to a member of the class of 2015?

My feelings on the subject could be quite biased, based on limited
observations in auditing 10 5C classes in the last five years since moving
back to Claremont, sharing retirement meals daily with former senior faculty
from the 5C colleges and elsewhere,
and having grandchildren who have just graduated from top 25 U.S. colleges. 

I would honestly like an answer or to at
least have a member of your student readers join me in a discussion of the
subject.

Just because I had 8 a.m.
classes at Pomona, even on Saturdays, does not necessarily mean that I spent
my time well. However, we students did not protest such scheduling and my Saturday attendance indicates that my peers and I had a serious attitude about classroom and laboratory education
being the most important part of
the reason for attending college.

Some
50 to 70 hours per week of class and homework time were common, and this was
not just limited to science majors. Frankly, partying was rather limited to Saturday nights, but we also
seriously concentrated our efforts there. Should studying be the major priority in college life? Were we caught up in some sort of a post-war push to get
America rolling again? 

Here is
where my chemical career could easily put me into a special non-typical
category of dedicated (read “long”) hours. There was much to be done in the world of rockets and
science and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting each challenge. Many years later, I still enjoy daily
challenges and gladly give Pomona full credit for the excitement of
ever-continuing learning and teaching, a habit I am glad to have been exposed
to. I would not have had it
otherwise.

Learning has always been a complex task, with a near-infinite
quantity of information out there to process, and I would hope that all serious
students, then and now, use their time in the most optimum manner possible. Information technology has changed the
means of reaching that optimality. However, there is something to be said that I was clever enough to
arrive at the old Carnegie Library early enough to get that one copy of the
reserve book rather than depending on an electronic search engine to find it for me. 

Measuring
efficiency in learning is perhaps radically different from my experience back in the 1940s. I still ‘waste’ time memorizing facts
and data instead of being really logical and realizing I can research them in
a few milliseconds when I need specific information. I find my way
integrates into all sorts of wonderful new concepts and patentable ideas. Does the new way do that too?

The IT systems, from huge to
wrist-worn, have truly changed the way we all process information. It is my
opinion that not all these changes are of great benefit to society as a whole,
something I think we all should be concerned with. If just one ‘fact’ that I
keep hearing is true, I think this college time priority discussion is worth
having.  

Is the estimate of 30+
hours per week of texting, tweeting, Facebooking, etc., on the expensive
electronic toys accurate information? Can this generation properly conduct a live conversation? Do students know not to glance at their smartphones during
a job interview or while enjoying a meal or a glass of wine? I sincerely hope that I may find answers to these questions and that the rumors are untrue.

Milt Wilson PO ’49 is a
chemist retired from the rocket and environmental-control industries, now
living in the Mt. San Antonio Gardens Senior Community in Claremont.

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