I just finished giving a presentation to my Spanish class. It wasn’t anything fancy; five or seven minutes of blabbering in Spanish about Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. That wasn’t the strange part.
No, the part that scared me — literally, to the point where I probably botched more multisyllabic Spanish words than usual — came halfway through my presentation, when I realized that everyone in the class was looking at me.
To another generation, this might not seems strange. I was standing up in front of a class of 15 or so in a small room, talking loudly. You’d probably expect that anyone who’d bother to show up for that kind of class would be paying attention.
But I wasn’t expecting that at all.
In fact, I’d completely forgotten that occasionally, speakers receive the attention of those they’re speaking to. See, most of my presentations have been to journalism classes. And journalism students aren’t like normal human beings. No, journalism students are preternaturally distractible, and even more so now that wireless internet is omnipresent on college campuses. We journalism students sit behind our laptops, Facebooking and Googling, occasionally about the topic at hand but usually not. Just this morning, I sat in the back of the room during a two hour lecture just to watch the rest of the class log onto Twitter and complain to other students about the lecture they weren’t listening to. (Naturally, I grew bored of watching other people complain, so logged on to Twitter and did the exact same thing.)
It’s been a while since I’d actually talked to a group of students who weren’t trying to decide what was more interesting: me, or TMZ. So when I realized in Spanish class that people were looking at me, I started to sweat. I thought that something was visibly wrong with me. Maybe my fly was unzipped. Maybe my hair had blown askew in the wind. Maybe I had blacked out and accidentally started speaking Cantonese.
I kept going, through the presentation, trying not to make any obvious motions toward the hair or groin. I knew something was wrong; I just didn’t know what.
Then I finished my bumbling explanation of Vallejo’s “El momento más grave de la vida.” And the class did what classes usually do at the end of a presentation: they clapped. But they did so in a way that showed this weird sense of appreciation for what I’d just told them, as though I’d presented ideas that might possibly be useful or thoughtful or even applicable to their own lives.
And that’s when I realized what had been weirding me out the whole time: they’d actually been listening.