Further Adventures in Pictorial Evidence


Meta: Blogger Writing Blog.

On Monday, I felt a bit sick and left work early, missing the second half of my office hours. Normally, my office hours are as deserted as an office building on Christmas morning. I usually spend the two hours doing paperwork or watching videos of animals who think they’re human.

So when I left a bit early Monday, I figured nobody would be wise. I tramped home, slipped mindfully into a matching sweatsuit and began reading on my couch with a cup of tea nearby and a cat irritating me with her tail.

There are some universal constants in the minutiae of academic life. For example, by the time you arrive at the Christmas party, the good juicy pork nibblers will be gone. The day you do something rather unconventional in class, is the day the class is interrupted by a high level administrator who just walked into the wrong room. Printers, projectors, and scanners all have brains, are vindictive, and hate people with advanced degrees.

But the biggest of all the truths is this: students don’t come to office hours, except for the day you can’t be at them, and then they show up in droves, with a desperate need to talk to you about something they could have easily taken care of by just coming to class or by applying 11 seconds of critical thinking.

So when I received an email from a student later that day, claiming that he had arrived at my office hours at 11:20 a.m. and was distressed to find that I was not there, I grumbled. Then I hoped that his arrival, frustration, and subsequent desperation had not been witnessed by someone responsible for my employment or for the successful transfer of cash to my account in return for services.

That was when I noticed the attached image in his email. Wondering what image he could possibly have attached, I clicked it. It was a selfie of our student standing in front of the door of my office, vexed expression bent across his face, his left arm held up so that I might clearly see the face of his watch, and the little and big hands working in Teutonic efficiency in order to convey that it was, indeed, 11:20 a.m.

Part of me wanted to laugh and then it did. Hard. I wrote a note back thanking him for the proof and directing him to the website where he could find the information he required. I resisted the urge to send a series of selfies back, pictorially telling the story of how I read his note, reacted in disdain, worked through my feelings on the matter, and eventually found my way to forgiveness and personal redemption. Instead, I went back to my couch and read for a while more, slouching lower and lower against the pillow, until the inevitable occurred and I slipped gleefully into a guiltless afternoon nap.

Rare though they are, a Monday afternoon nap is usually tinged with guilt, marring slightly the naughty pleasure of hiding from the real world on a Monday. But this nap was guiltless because I had worked all weekend and therefore I (and my psyche, evidently) felt that I deserved it.

While I slept, my brain worked through the situation with the student. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, and in fact it was a reasonable way of (sort of) proving his attendance at my office. But still, it was just another example of a trend I’ve noticed in the last year or so.

Students use their phone cameras for everything now. Often a student who forgot his book will simply snap a shot of the page in his class partner’s book. Students no longer write assignments down off of the projector screen, they simply take a picture. And since I am standing in front of the screen, I have been the subject (or maybe the object) of more photos this year than ever before.

This is not confined to students. At the conference I attended last weekend the professors and scientists in attendance took pictures of slides which contained interesting data, findings, or charts.

Where is this going? Sure, pictures are efficient and clear, but are we heading towards not writing anymore at all. Why write a note when you can take a picture of what you need to see later? Why write down your assignment when you can have it straight from the professor’s slide? Are we going to become a society of people showing each other pictographs to convey points and ideas? Perhaps one day we’ll truly test out the idiom that a picture is worth a thousand words. I hope those words are intelligent.

In the interests of full disclosure, in the last month I have taken a picture of a map, a sign on the door of my building, and a tram schedule. So, I am guilty too, but not about my Monday afternoon nap.

  1. #1 by Hanky on December 12, 2016 - 5:15 pm

    People have been doing this for 10+ years…

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