People who find themselves befuddled by “the connected lives of today’s college students” often make a false assumption, which is that being connected is the same as being tech-savvy. Actually, it doesn’t take a great deal of savvy to text or take pictures with your cellphone, or to post those pictures to your Facebook page. And whatever savvy it does require doesn’t transfer to the varieties of technical knowledge that aid the academic enterprise. Very few of my students can conduct a good and well-focused search in one of the databases of academic journals; their Google searches even are lousy. A surprising number are unaware that Microsoft Word has an outlining mode that would help them in taking class notes or planning a paper; almost none know that there are dedicated outlining applications that do that job much better than Word does. (When I tell them that I don’t even have Word, or for that matter any Microsoft application, on my computer they look upon me with a mixture of terror, dread, and awe.) When I explain that there are online services like Bib Me that can find publication data and format it properly for them they don’t even believe me. And as for any awareness of the PIM tools and applications available, often for free, on the web: fuggeddaboudit.
Some years ago the WSJ ran a wonderful interview with the architect Frank Gehry that concluded with a story about Gehry’s helping a friend redesign her office space. Gehry commented, “I've always had the fantasy of having a little kiosk in the mall where I could do that. Where people would line up and you would charge them 25 bucks and you would look at their plans. . . . Small pleasures.” My version of that: I’d love to be the personal technology consultant for my students. Listen to their problems, ask them a few questions about their work habits, take them to the applications (web or desktop) that would help put their little mental houses in order. Small pleasures.