Saturday, September 01, 2007

Escaping Physical Reality

This article about laptops and other gadgets at meetings brought up so many conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, we've all sat in meetings where someone seemed more engaged in what was happening on their laptop screen than in the room - and that's not just rude, it's unproductive. On the other hand, we've all been in meetings so tedious and pointless that having such as escape is a welcome thing.

Dean Hachamovitch raises some good points about he benefits of being connected during a meeting - somebody can look something up, send a quick email with a question to someone that might get answered during the course of the meeting, and so on. On the other hand, he raises some issues that I've seen happen:

Laptops in meetings can be discouraging if the most senior people in the room are frequently looking down at their laptops or, worse yet, typing for an extended time.

That reminded me of a meeting from my dot com days, in which a senior VP sat in the room thoroughly engaged in IM, chuckling, typing responses, and clearly was only with us in body, not mind. It was horribly inappropriate, and noticed by everyone in the room (including people many levels down the org chart), who were probably thinking - as I was - "if this meeting is that pointless, why are we all here?" It didn't help that she was a VP of Big Abstract Thoughts or something like that, and nobody was really sure what she did.

And of course laptops in meetings are just one manifestation of a larger trend, one that makes me nuts - the people who live in another dimension. The guy in front of you in line at Starbucks who's engrossed in his phone call while the person behind the counter says, "Sir? Sir? Can I help you, Sir?" The person at the grocery store whose cart is blocking your far and who is furiously texting as you keep repeating, "excuse me" and trying to wriggle past. The students in the lecture hall who are busy IMing and texting one another and the lecturer speaks into the great emptiness where there bodies are stored. And now, of course, the Twitterers twittering about what a great time they're having hanging out with somebody (while said somebody, I suppose, either sits waiting for them to look up from their mobile phones or is also busy twittering someone else about how much fun it is to breathe the same air as the others while doing something else).

Maybe I'm hopelessly forty-plus here, but I hate it, all of it. If I am going to have a meeting, it's because I think we should sit and talk about something. If someone says, "Hey, I think I have an email about that, let me check," and turns to her laptop, that's great. If it's an electronic engagement going on, then I'm inclined to say, "Should we reschedule?"

We all spend so much of our day looking at the screen connecting with each other electronically. When we decide to actually have meetings, we should make sure that there is a reason - and that the reason is valuable enough for us all to turn away from the screen, re-enter our corporeal bodies, and pay attention to the people around us.

I am on the board of a non-profit, and our monthly meetings being with the president reminding us to turn our cell phones off or to silent. We then spend an hour or so talking about all the business at hand. It's old fashioned, utterly 20th century, and quite refreshing.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Or, as I've crankily noted before: You/we/I just ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT. If you're not a brain surgeon on call, you simply do not need to be hooked in all the time, every where.

Cell phones, IMing, etc. should help communication and connection - not hinder it.