CIO Magazine has a column written by David Rosenbaum, and titled Cranky Old Guy in which a week ago he wrote an entry Please Stop Playing with Yourself.
I view the column as being partially humor because I personally am such an odd mix of experience and a desire to use new techniques and technologies in novel ways.
David Rosenbaum really does sound like a cranky old guy in this particular entry, because what he’s bemoaning is that people (today) sit in meetings with their Blackberry, or cell ph, or computer in front of them (or in their lap below table level in order to hide it) reading and answering email rather than attending to the topic of the meeting.
Well, it’s easy to understand that he feels neglected and disrespected because people are doing other things while he’s making a PowerPoint presentation. And who hasn’t done this at least a couple of times in some boring meeting? But there are other aspects to be considered. On both sides of the table.
In fact, I feel that bringing a laptop computer to a meeting should in most cases be encouraged and put to good use, and here’s the how-and-why of that…
First, read the original article by David Rosenbaum at CIO Magazine online. Dont’ bother reading all of the comments or you’ll get mired down over there and never finish reading my reply to David, which follows. Oh, if you are one of those self-diagnosed ADHDs, please stay here and finish reading my column before you go read David’s original post… 😉
Acting like you’re of “legal age” to play with yourself
There are some good comments here [comments tacked onto the CIO article in his blog which mostly either completely support his crotchety “PAY ATTENTION” attitude, or argue that (young people) can multi-task and there’s no harm in this behavior], but this is not a black-and-white issue. It does not just boil down to respect and it does not just boil down to whether one can multi-task or not, though those are good observations and important principles. The issue for me is really whether the person using the laptop computer or PDA or tablet PC is doing productive work related to “being truly present” in the meeting or whether they’re “playing hookey” and attending to things that distract them from the meeting. The issue is mental presence. You can’t legislate that by drawing a line and saying “no computers in this meeting.” If you did that to me, I’d suggest that perhaps we should also leave paper and pencils out in the hall as well – because not having the computer there means I can’t take notes effectively.
In fact, most meetings that I’m in REQUIRE that the person have his or her computer open and operating: 1) we all take notes on our computers so they’re instantly indexed and available [on my Mac OSX system, Spotlight instantly creates text indexes of all of the note files I’ve saved, and I can search notes from meetings going back several years to find that one “gem of wisdom” I need right now in this meeting]; 2) we share things during the meeting using (mostly Bonjour) IM clients – we essentially have an “IM version” of the meeting going on at the same time the F2F is taking place and productive side-conversations don’t interrupt what’s going on; 3) we share observations and discoveries during the meeting using DIGG or del.icio.us; and 4) we use a web browser (and sometimes Google Earth and other tools) to explore additional online resources that reinforce or expand what we’re talking about.
The key is whether meeting participants have enough mental discipline to focus on the topic of the meeting rather than trying to multi-task. And an additional factor is that if the meeting is “too slow” for the multi-taskers, then the leader should speed the blasted thing up and get on with business more quickly! Or, as an alternative, those folks who want to check their mail should just not be invited to the meeting next time – they may not be needed.
You know, another technique that I use, besides being fully present myself (which is priority #1), is that I periodically look up over the top of the computer and make direct eye contact, and nod, and comment or ask questions, and let the presenter know that I am “with it” and following what he or she is saying. Everyone truly seems to appreciate this. And when I truly look like I’m fully-present then I actually am fully-present. Attention and body language stay in sync!