As a souvenir, I picked up a copy of the LA Times at the airport but wasn’t able to read it until I got home, where I was shocked to see this headline on the front page: Silicon Valley meetings go ‘topless’.
With such an eye-grabbing header, I had to read the article, which was about how meetings are going (lap)topless. The companies who were interviewed said that they discovered that laptops and smart phones, etc. made a “handy diversion” in meetings and that people were having more eye contact with their screens than one another. They claimed that going “topless” in meetings made them more productive.
I can see how taking out laptops from the meeting room can increase efficiency. I myself had had many MSN conversations and Second Life rendezvous with people who were bored in meetings and were fortunate enough to have a seat where no one would be behind them.
But it makes one think of why people are doing other things in the meeting to begin with. Sure enough, there will always be the worker who will find a way to remove his or her brain from any meeting, but for a lot of people, maybe all it takes to grab their attention is a meeting that it efficient in itself.
I find the same thing applies at universities, especially talking with my friends at Harvard Law School. You would think that having paid so much tuition, students would try to get as much as they could from their lectures. They are allowed to have laptops in the classroom and I know that a lot of them go to Facebook or are IMing during some of them. But in other classes that require a lot of participation, engaging content, and so forth, more students are interested in taking notes (on their laptop) and/or searching through on the web briefly to look up things that are being taught.
Of course, blaming machines and slack workers is much easier than trying to educate senior executives to deliver a good presentation or cut out unnecessary scolding. It’s likely very true that laptops are interfering with meetings, but that’s overlooking the fundamental cause of why people are using their laptops to get out of the meeting in the first place.