Two recent articles caught my eye. A New York law firm has instituted a policy banning mobile phone and Blackberrys from major meetings. The University of Chicago Law School has shut down Internet access for most of its classrooms because of an "epidemic" of distracting Internet use. Dean Saul Levmore told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, "several observers have reported that one student will visit a gossip site or shop for shoes and, within 20 minutes, an entire row is shoe shopping."
As a technology guy, you might think I am appalled at these trends, but I’m not. Now I can work up some rage at the Luddite professors who want to ban laptops from the classroom. Sorry, but that is how today’s students take notes– get over it! How great it would be for the new lawyer to have all of her law school notes preserved in searchable text files.
But snubbing a group of people you are with to attend to an electronic device is generally a very negative thing. We’ve all seen it happen. A meeting is going well and then someone gets a call or gets distracted by an IM or e-mail. Not only is the attention of that person lost, but everyone is distracted. The others make eye contact and frown. Some may reach for their own devices. If it is a decision maker who has checked out of the meeting, the entire momentum of the meeting stalls.
With a classroom setting, it may be less distracting to others, but more to the laptop web user. I’ll admit I have checked my e-mail on my laptop from the back rows of seminar presentations. But I’ll also admit that I more than once I have been lost in an e-mail and suddenly jerked back to reality by hearing the end of something that sounded interesting. But I missed it. So, as hard as it can be, we all need to work on focusing on the speaker and the subject.
I like the idea of banning the devices from major or short meetings. If you really want to have a short meeting, remove all of the chairs from the room, too.
Now this is not to say that I’ll never check e-mail from a meeting again. Sometimes I have to go to meetings where the only thing I am interested in is item #8 on the agenda. That’s when wireless Internet access is a really positive thing in my books.
Both stories were noted on ABAJournal.com, which provided links to the more detailed stories cited above.