U R not listening
The Boston Globe
November 6, 2006
ANYBODY WHO addresses a boardroom or a lecture hall these days is
asking for disappointment, for a glance out over the typical audience
reveals a frenzy of e-mailing and text-messaging. People pretend to
pay attention. All the while, they're pecking at their BlackBerrys,
trying but failing to be discreet.
Busy professionals are the worst offenders. Sherry Turkle, an MIT
psychologist and sociologist who studies how people relate to
technology, describes a conference she attended in a remote part of
Japan. "It was grueling to get there," she says. Yet for all the
trouble participants took to meet up , many spent the session fiddling
with their handhelds.
Watching people thumb away, one wonders: What are they doing ? Buying
stocks? Making snarky comments about what others are wearing? Trading
electronic mash notes -- "i think about u 24-7 " -- with secret
paramours thousands of miles away ?
There is a mitigating factor: Often , the podium jockey who's being
tuned out is showing a PowerPoint presentation -- and reading from
slide after interminable slide. Those who hoped to influence a roomful
of people used to try to be interesting . Not anymore; there are too
many bullet points to project on the wall. Maybe audiences should be
polite enough to sit there glassy-eyed and slackjawed, but they don't.
So a battle is underway: PowerPoint vs. BlackBerry. This is the
Iran-Iraq war of passive aggression -- whom to root for? In this same
circle of hell, the Yankees play the Lakers for all eternity, and
condemned Bostonians are required to choose sides.
In truth, surreptitious text-messaging is just an outgrowth of several
social trends, none of them good. People work too hard . They get
dragooned into attending events they'd prefer to avoid. And, as Turkle
points out, people like the feeling of control that comes with
experiencing life onscreen. "It's not just during boring PowerPoints,"
she says. "Increasingly, people define their media bubble as being
their primary community."
In theory, BlackBerrys bring people together, just as presentation
software gets ideas across clearly. But people can do both the analog
way -- by actually talking to each other. In practice, certain
so-called advances merely let us have unsatisfying interactions with
multiple people at the same time.
No thanks. Overscheduled Americans need to play hooky from PowerPoint,
put down the handhelds, and enjoy life off the grid. Let's all
text-message ourselves: u need 2 relax.
Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.