In an important company meeting this week, a manager asked all of us in the auditorium to turn our laptops off for the duration of his presentation.  Instinctively, I turned to my PocketPC to take notes, which he also asked me to shut down.

I completely understand and respect his intent.  It never ceases to amaze me how the VAST majority of people using a PC during a meeting can be surreptitiously checking their e-mail or surfing the Intarweb.   

Today, Office has Information Rights Management (IRM), which lets me do things like send e-mail to a colleague that's effectively impossible for them to forward along (without requiring them to put their Tablet PC on the photocopier upside-down).  IRM is a technical stunt that requires collaboration at the operating system level.

If we can implement IRM, then maybe we could also do some sort of Application Access Management? 

Imagine a world where, when logged into a University wireless LAN during lecture hours, students are only permitted to access OneNote, Word and PowerPoint.  Instant Messenger and E-mail traffic is "magically" disabled.

I can't stop thinking about how that might work -- both technically and socially.  Would professors force students to comply?  Would it be successful?  Insulting?  Would students just hack their way around it? 

It's funny, isn't it, how technologies that are designed to make people more productive, when used inappropriately, can also make them more distracted...

 

Update: To be sure, this is behaviour I've seen countless times before -- both inside and outside of my current corporate culture. So I can't attribute it to a company-specific thing. 

I had a manager at my last job make the exact same request during an all-hands meeting.  My understanding of the managers' intent is that they want to ensure we all have the undivided attention of everyone at the meeting.  Unfortunately, what we sacrifice is the note-taking ability of everyone like me who has practically forgotten what a pen looks like.

Matt posted a great comment in my blog which I've managed to accidentally erase in my attempt to update this entry -- I am still trying to grok this new blogging engine!!

He said: "I'm also not sure why we think that technology should be used to solve a social problem like common courtesy... After all, you're in a meeting aren't you? Unless you are using it strictly for taking notes then there is no reason to have it on. But that's not really what everyone does with their laptop in meetings is it? ;)"

Exactly!  Maybe the problem is strictly social.  Matt also shares another of my pet peeves, and writes "Just give me a way to force people to turn off their %$%^* cell phones while in a meeting or a movie and I'll be happy. Baby steps my friend..." 

Good point Matt... I've tried in the past to be tolerant of mobile phone users.  Mobile phones became ubiquitous so quickly that we've struggled to figure out what the appropriate surrounding social protocols should be (not just in a cinema, but also in potentially ambiguous cases, like handling a potentially urgent call at a fancy restaurant just as the food is being served). 

But as we get used to having these mobile devices all around us -- my tolerance for inane public phone usage has plummeted indeed. :)