Bad manners or the acceptable face of multi tasking?

Twenty seconds into my train journey to London this morning I broke out into a cold sweat. I realised I had left my iPhone and my Blackberry at home. Ironically I was on route to Melcrum’s Social Media conference. What a day to be without the means to communicate!

I managed to find the venue despite having no access to Google maps, which was a relief. It didn’t take long before I found myself glancing enviously around the packed room at my peers as some brandished their mobiles quite brazenly and others glanced furtively between their legs where they engaged with the outside world with a little more discretion.

Two things struck me. First, it cost a fair few quid to be in the room. £625 to be precise. I’m guessing that most delegates were there by virtue of company money. Surely they owed it to their paymaster to pay a bit more attention to the distinguished speakers? 

Secondly, how did the speakers feel about giving it their all up on stage to an audience that clearly wasn’t 100% focussed on their efforts? I know how irritated I get when people whip out a Blackberry and begin tap tap tapping during a meeting. Surely it is a simple question of good manners. If someone is presenting to us should we not all afford the presenter the basic courtesy of paying attention?

There is a senior executive at my place who thunders through the office regularly to and from his desk, focussed on nothing other than his Blackberry. I can’t help feeling he is missing a trick. His personal equity would increase significantly if he trousered his mobile, raised his eyes and engaged with the people around him. 

Am I clinging on to old world values here? Could it be that etiquette has moved on? Are the new forms of communication changing acceptable norms? I don’t know the answer yet – although interestingly Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade suggests they probably are.

Perhaps it is a question of my inability to multi task? Maybe it is possible to write an email, an SMS message or Tweet whilst listening intently to someone else speaking to you. I had to marvel at the manual dexterity and multi tasking skills of a colleague of mine the other day who was tapping away on his Blackberry with one hand while his other hand was ensuring Percy was properly pointing at the porcelain….

14 thoughts on “Bad manners or the acceptable face of multi tasking?

  1. Hey Jon – great post and I really felt for you when you mentioned you’d left all gadgets behind. For me, that would feel like I’d left my voicebox at home – but, evidently not for you after reading this post.

    I do agree that it’s a bit off-putting having someone tapping away mid conversation – or even harder, when you’re in the middle of presenting something that’s taken a huge amount of time to prepare. BUT…I’m wondering how I’d feel if people DIDN’T tweet etc through a presentation I was doing on social media. Would I feel a great sense of failure?

    • Abi – don’t for one minute think that if I’d had my iPhone with me I would have been sitting there empty handed! No chance, I would have been ‘communicating’ with the outside world and others in the room as much as anyone. Well, maybe not you 😉

      I’m merely using the experience to challenge myself really. I’m genuinely confused as to what is acceptable behaviour these days and am increasingly feeling a bit out of touch when I challenge what I see as poor behaviour when actually it is just new and perfectly acceptable behaviour.

  2. As a gen-u-wine blackberry addict, I admit to sneaking peeks at the ‘berry whenever I can, though I try to avoid doing it in the direct presence of those I should be paying attention to…

    At the same time, it’s also indicative of modern pressure–we want/need to be immediately responsive to bosses/partners/potential allies in a way such immediacy wasn’t expected even ten years ago. I’m sure some of your fellow attendees were spending the corporate dime–but also needed to keep stirring the corporate soup in their absence from the office.

    • Mike – I’m sure the pressures you describe are real. Being brutally honest here (very dangerous!) I sometimes feel it is less about these pressures and more about feeding an addiction. I’ve always had an addictive personality. Funnily enough I find gambling the easiest of the lot to control, which is good given my current job. The hardest addiction I find to control is the rush I get from finding new stuff out and feeling ‘connected’.

      Studies suggest that the ‘dopamine rush’ information addicts get is no different from that induced by narcotics. There are some interesting studies on this relatively new form of ‘online compulsive disorder’. Maybe I should start up a London chapter of Information Addicts Anonymous (IAA) – although anonymity is the last thing any of us would be seeking 😉

    • You know the odd thing is that of the four contributors to this discussion three of us use the same theme! Mike on his Intersection blog was the 1st! I must say I’m loving the WordPress experience over the Tumblr one.

  3. Question – how did you set it up so that when you comment (on your posts or another WP blog) your name links back to Ride the Ripple? Something that’s been annoying me for a while as just can’t figure out how to do it!

      • Tumblr was very good initially as I wanted something very plain and googlesque in simplicty. I then tried adding bits and pieces and found it increasingly harder. I guess my original requirements evolved and wordpress leapt out as a better alternative. I think wordpress SEO is better as well.

  4. Guilty as charged, Jon – though I made sure I sat near the back on Wednesday so I wasn’t in the presenters’ direct eyeline. I actually found that tweeting focused my attention even more on what they were saying because I wanted to capture the really salient nuggets. And it’s interesting looking at the #MelcrumSMC stream to see if others in the room are picking up on the same points – it’s a useful opener for discussions during the coffee breaks.

    Kudos to your colleague for his dexterity in the gents. Personally, I don’t think any message is so urgent that it can’t wait a few moments for the immediate matter at hand (pardon the expression) to be concluded!

    • Reviewing the MelcrumSMC feed later in the day when I was eventually and joyfully re-united with my iPhone, it is true that certain nuggets clearly resonated with several delegates judging by the number of multiple mentions and RTs. I was delighted to see my pig feeding analogy make the shortlist, thanks!

  5. Great post Jon, And we wonder why we’re stresseed! We are letting people in 24 hours a day, and boy aren’t they demanding and through technology we let them be. If we think about it, right back to the beginning of technology, nobody has really created any parameters around the appropriatness or when it is acceptable to use technolgy and when it is just darn right rude. Think about the use of blackberry’s etc in meetings where decisions are being made. Can you really be contributing to making a fully informed decision when half the time you are not there in mind??.

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