Pros and Cons of Netbooks

ReAnne Utemark

In an ongoing effort to be Debbie Downer’s sister, I am beginning to wonder about the consequences of netbooks.

Let me clarify that cheaper laptops are great for students and others who might not have been able to afford a $1,500 computer. Indeed, in a world where tuition is hard earned at almost full-time jobs, and in one of the worst economies the world has seen in decades, cheaper is better. Additionally, it is allowing more people to “catch up” with the ever-increasing amount of information that is online.

Not just news and research, but more class material is online and professors are sending students links for more information to connect the classroom to the “real world.” Oh, and if you lose your copy of the syllabus, you don’t have to panic at 2 a.m. when you realize you have something due tomorrow, but can’t remember what. Netbooks are good for students and increasing information around the world.

The reason I question netbooks is because I wonder how much are they going to contribute to the idea of disposable hardware. Even now, the run of the mill HP, Dell or even, dare I say it, Mac, will last about four to five years if you take care of it. Some are more disposable than that. And frankly, as college students who are lugging their computers to class, throwing them in the back of their cars to go home and pirating as much music and videos as they can, it can be a hard life for any laptop. Now you have a netbook that is going to cost about $100 – $200, so a great deal cheaper than most models that are available from any maker currently. Sure, these will be easier to carry and cheaper to buy, but if it is only $150, what incentive does one have to take care of it? Some people spend more than that on iPods.

As well, I have to wonder how well these are going to be made. Will each one last a year or two? If it does, where does it go when you can no longer connect to the Internet? It will go to the rapidly increasing pile of e-waste. E-waste was a big issue a few years ago, but few have since connected it to this onslaught of disposable computers.

I cannot complain about computers getting cheaper, but I also want the whole to start thinking about the future. Being thoughtful and discussing the issues surrounding this new development will be important to college campuses. Now that everyone can afford a computer, will professors have to let students use them in class? Will professors start requiring the use of laptops in class? If this is the case, there are some classes where I learn better taking notes with a pen and paper and would not want to be required to use a computer. At the same time, more classrooms are becoming seamlessly integrated with technology, and students are learning more information because of it. These are all questions for both students and administration.

With every new technology comes a burst of excitement and then when the bubble bursts and everyone starts thinking about what all of it means, then there can be some regrets. Perhaps this is the next great breakthrough for learning and computing and the Internet. Maybe it is the next thing that is going to bring us closer to looking like the first 15 minutes of WALL•E. I just hope the consumers snapping up these cute little gizmos consider the implications.