The ubiquity of laptops in classrooms troubles me. You have to understand, I am like a centenarian when it comes to technology, but I think the point is still poignant. I think we need to all admit that nobody pays full attention to a speaker when they have their laptop in front of them. That type of self-control just does not exist anymore.
The first objection will be that glancing at emails once or twice during lecture does not actually interrupt a person’s attention. Essentially, as long as you are not browsing memebase, reddit, 4chan or some other asinine expedient of time, then you are okay to take notes. I think this is a gross misconception.
First, the vast majority of people I have seen are glued to the screen perusing a website, especially in classes that lack visual aids. What I have seen is that when a person is not occupied with visual stimulation at the front of the room, they generate that stimulus themselves. For a lot of students, it is not just a quick look at emails. They are surfing the web, something that could be done at home.
Second, periodically checking your email during class is still a problem. What you are saying is that those things are on your mind. Facebook, email, texts, all have some grip on your attention, even if you think it is minimal. The problem with multi-tasking is that you end up doing two things poorly, rather than one well. Just because you are generating notes does not mean the talk has significance for you. Lectures, especially in the humanities, require active mental engagement. I often scribble notes about my notes during lectures, because even the information fed to us by professors requires scrutiny. You should not be a passive receptacle to information.
Lastly, web-surfing or text messaging during talks is simply rude. I was in a relatively small lecture class, with roughly thirty people, where the boy in front of me was blatantly texting on his phone the entire time. The speaker saw this and, at least for an instant, was visibly perturbed. He was a guest speaker asked to come talk to us about a topic of interest. That is not the way I was taught to receive a guest, and it certainly does not reflect well on the student body.
If you truly feel a lecturer is incompetent, or that his lecture is wasting your time, then leave. It is better to leave then to stay on and mindlessly record notes you could grab from a friend. There is no need to keep up the charade of paying attention when you are not.