This is a line of thought I seem to encounter ever more frequently, perhaps reflecting how integrated into everyday life these mobile technologies are becoming:
I am deeply attached to my ipad and have it with me almost constantly. I check my email obsessively and tend to all the alerts and messages generated by the various apps and social media platforms. I keep papers for meetings and can access my calendar with all the notes on my rather complex work schedule. It is invaluable.
The problem is, in many meetings, that I am prey to the temptation to ‘look down, not up’. The technology is pulling me out of the context, the meeting I am in, into another space. This is not an original observation, many social commentators have remarked upon the substitution of what they deem an ersatz virtual experience for a real one.
This phenomenon is clearly not just about the workplace, but it is there I would like to focus. Give a scientific presentation for instance and a majority of the attendees will be staring at the device on their laps, a few using it to support the talk, following up on terms they do not understand, many more checking email or facebook. We clearly have to find our way out of the situation and we need practical strategies for addressing it, not rhetoric or finger wagging.
However I find it obviously problematic. People have always absented themselves from social situations in which they’re participating, often without any outward appearance of doing so (until they’re asked a question). I wouldn’t deny there’s something particularly insidious about iPads and laptops, given the genuinely practical role they can serve in contexts like meetings, which is worthy of discussion. But there’s an oddly abdicable tone which frequently creeps into these debates, as if the iPad creates an impulse to zone out that was previously absent, as opposed to providing a means through which an existing impulse can find expression. In doing so, the technology may act back up on the propensity, intensifying it by providing a recurrent grounds (“I wonder if I have any new e-mail”) for enacting it. But the propensity does not originate in the technology. It would be like blaming WordPress and Feedly for the fact I’ve only written 400 words in the last 3 hours.