In Defense Of Mobile E-Mail 'Addiction'

from the Best-Use-Of-Your-Time dept

There is an interesting Reuters article about how former NY state Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith had a meeting scheduled with billionaire Tom Golisano, a major political fund contributor. (Eschewing the issue of how political contributions are accepted without question, as paid access to our elected officials,) the article describes how Mr. Smith spent enough time on his Blackberry to offend Golisano. The billionaire has clout, and subsequently engineered the ouster of Smith. The article’s true focus, then, is how dangerous it is for people to use their mobile email devices during meetings, during social engagements, in the car with family, etc. It points out how rude it can be, and also point out how it can actually be less efficient, because a person’s attention is split.

That is all true, but whenever one of these opinion pieces comes out, it ignores the other case: that oftentimes at meetings, our attention simply isn’t necessary or productive. In any given multi-person meeting, for what % of the time is each person’s participation and attention truly productive? Is every topic related to you? Could a quick check of email be more productive? I would argue that optimal participation is usually less than 100%. Same goes for conferences: Sometimes the conference agenda will include a speaker that is just not very relevant to your individual interests. Yes, you could learn something by listening, but perhaps you could be more productive by responding to your clients, staff, or boss on your mobile device. I’ve met a few people who take offense at every sighting of a Blackberry, but that’s usually attached to a big ego that takes offense too easily. Not every word you say is golden, or even directed at me. In a one on one meeting, obviously one should be focused on the person in front, and one should not feign listening while actually reading. But in multi-party meetings, there are good opportunities to mentally duck out. A blanket Blackberry backlash isn’t well-reasoned. As in most debates, a balance needs to be struck.

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Comments on “In Defense Of Mobile E-Mail 'Addiction'”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

That is all true… but… it ignores the other case…

So your point is that you should do it when and where it makes sense and not do it when and where it doesn’t. Unfortunately, that very practical advice probably wouldn’t make a very interesting article. Journalism is all about twisting uninteresting events and situations in a one-sided way to create a conflict/controversy were none exists. This week it’s phone etiquette, next week it’ll be something else.

slacker525600 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“As in most debates, a balance needs to be struck”
Obviously, but most people would prefer to take a side in an attempt to prove a point, as opposed to coming to a logical point. The writer obviously had their goal in writing the article.

“you should do it when and where it makes sense and not do it when and where it doesn’t”
As with numerous laws that are passed, common sense does not rule the land. People need to be told common sense. Which in turn leads to people attempting to push their ideas on others who are willing to accept them. Unfortunately even after being told common sense or an agenda people will still act however they see fit to act in the moment. So its a lose, lose.

“Journalism is all about twisting uninteresting events”
not entirely, but the problem is that incentives are not properly aligned. There is more than one issue at hand. On the one hand, reporters should try to give a reasonably balanced view which reports both sides of an issue, but on the other hand they should try to support their opinion, and express their opinion in a clear way to demonstrate their belief. And another issue at hand is that the point of publications is to sell copies. As fox news realized, reporting the news doesn’t get viewers, putting on a media circus does.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, one way to take care of the problem is to stop paying iPhone, RIM and Palm dataplan bills.

That’s like saying the solution to the problem of speeding is to cut off the world gas supply. The “problem” is simply that people are sometimes rude. It’s just that technology continuously gives us new ways of being rude. The solution will come, as it always does, when social etiquette catches up with technology.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Oh for frak's sake

I agree that the actual number is more than the 10% I floated. But I’m actually a believer in people paying attention in meetings.

I think the design department should be forced to listen to, and understand what the finance dept is thinking. And for sure, the marketing team would benefit by listening to the engineering dept update at a high level. But when those engineers go off on a tangent about coding in perl v PHP, time to check the email!

mike42 (profile) says:


A quick check of an e-mail isn’t a big deal, but try having a conversation with one of these people. It’s adult ADHD. Guess what? The person trying to talk to you while you “check out” isn’t the one with the big ego. It’s someone who can’t show enough courtesy to wait 5 minutes until they are alone to text back! Besides, one of the rules of etiquette is to look the speaker in the eye.

FYI, if you are hitting buttons on your phone and haven’t bothered to say, “Excuse me, I need to reply to this” You are an a$$!

For an experience that will teach even the worst offender how rude this is, try talking to a teenager with an unlimited text plan.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Texting

Yeah. Although the original article specifically noted that one-on-one, your undivided attention is expected.

“In a one on one meeting, obviously one should be focused on the person in front, and one should not feign listening while actually reading.”

In those 1-on-1 situations, when an urgent call/email/sms arises, the person should apologize, say how long they will be interrupting the meeting, and make it as short as humanly possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: not even living in ny anymore

Who can blame him? Didn’t you know most new yorkers are pulled to florida by an unseen vortex? Don’t mess with a new yorker’s retirement- it’s directly related to the unseen forces that hold the universe together, and will be here until the end of time. To deny florida retirement for newyorkers it is along the lines of denying habius corpus.

All the good bingo, shuffleboard, and bridge tourneys happen there.

Felix Pleşoianu (user link) says:

I think this article is a refreshing change from the usual Techdirt line, and more interesting than it seems. See, it’s a matter of cultural differences. Here in Romania, electronic interruptions aren’t considered rude except in specific situations (at the movies, etc.) Then again, we use cellphones quite a lot. In Germany, on the other hand, I don’t even think I saw anyone using a cellphone *at all* in 3 days. I would imagine they’re not as casual about them. But in Japan… well… they type whole novels on their cellphones. Literally. No pun intended, either. Somehow, it doesn’t sound like a culture where they would mind their friends interrupting a conversation to send or read an SMS.

Oh wait, I said friends? That’s the problem here. Waste of time or not, a meeting is a formal, or at least semi-formal, event. If people feel you’re not needed there maybe they could, I don’t know, excuse themselves?

Anonymous Coward says:

Proof of addiction

For a seasoned politician not to be able to stop himself from checking his Blackberry while meeting 1 on 1 with a major backer, this is proof IMO that the addiction has taken over rational thought. Diplomacy and etiquette are second nature to these people. For that to go out the window, this guy must have been really strung out.

pk (profile) says:

it's really simple people

1. If you really didn’t need to be at the meeting then next time decline the meeting request stating why your input is not required.

2. If your input will be useful attend the meeting, turn your device to ‘in a meeting’ mode whatever that is on your particular device.

BTW, many companies have specific policies or guidelines to help you learn the proper meeting behaviour including the use of PDA/Iphone/Crackberry

Voila, that concludes meeting etiquette 101.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: it's really simple people

Obviously if you are completely un-needed at a meeting, then not going is the solution. But you are seeing the question as either i) 100% needed at the entire meeting, OR ii) completely un-needed at all.

That bi-polar situation is almost never the case.

Many meetings are called for which it IS productive to attend, however, your attention is not needed throughout the entire meeting. Just at specific times during the meeting.

In fact, most multi-party meetings are like this. Blackberry-type devices are fantasic tools for making those in-between moments productive, when historically all you could do was daydream about your holidays coupled with a blank stare.

What’s more productive, mobile email, or a blank stare?

Joe says:

Optimum meeting attention

I’m calling a miss on this one. I’ve been in dreary meetings as much as the next guy but I can’t see them being improved any by people checking their crackberries throughout.

The politician in question was done in by poor manners. People just need to remember that the smartphones are their for their convenience, not others.

ken says:

optimum meeting attention

Your right, but there are so many other places where people have to waste their time. I mean do nuclear plant operators really need to focus all their attention on the gauges? Security guards on rounds, medical support staff during operations, (the list is extensive) could surely find something to fill in the gaps in activity.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: optimum meeting attention

I can’t be sure if you’re being facetious or not. Your argument is correct, but you are using examples where we DO want people to pay attention, mostly because their job has a high level of “paying attention, on call, and ready to respond” in it. If you’re being sarcastic, then that’s a bit of a strawman, since nobody ever suggested these people whack away on email instead of their job.

However, if you’re talking straight, we are in agreement that for many employees, gains in productivity, efficiency, operations, yield management..all deal with filling in, or avoiding gaps in productivity.

– Just in time shipping
– Decision support systems
– logistics sytems such as ERP
– real time info systems that fedex drivers use
– taxi drivers use dispatch opeators
– police officers use wireless data systems to file reports from their cars, so they don’t have to drve into the station
– call center systems use predictive dialing (duly hated by consumers) to keep their reps “fully utilized”
– Southwest keeps their planes in the air, not the ground, avoiding ‘gaps’ for both their staff and equipment

There are thousands of examples of businesses tring to fill in the gaps for their employees. Basically, the businesses think if it is not a break or lunch, then it is a time resource that should be utilized as efficiently as possible.

Sadly, when it’s OUR job, we react poorly saying “They expect me to work non-stop.” But if you want to enjoy lower prices, better service, and if you want America to be able to compete with India, we need to be as productive as we can be. As a nation, we have the advantage of better tools, better access to capital, but I’m not sure we have the advantage of a better work ethic.

Mobile email, used well, is just a tool to make more efficient use of gap time. In this case, it’s often the managers who are expected to work in downtime or at night. The ability to make decisions and manage one’s team while in another city in a meeting is powerful. An entire production team could be waiting for something as simple as an ‘ok’ from the boss. The boss is tied up in a 3 hour meeting. A 5 minute mail check could allow that team to get back to work. It’s the
Real Time Enterprise.

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