Monday, April 24, 2006

Is Working in Meatspace Inefficient?

As more studies are done on the effects of new technologies on the behaviors of upcoming generations, we see that they tend to multitask much more than those who came before them. Whether it is the use of multiple devices, such as TV, the computer, cellphones, music devices, etc., or the computer by itself, our younger generations tend to keep tabs on multiple streams of input at once. It is debated whether or not this is a more efficient way to work in the long run, but it is a trend nevertheless.

Compare that with a recent article about the etiquette of the business meeting, where more often you will see people checking their PDAs while not directly paying attention to the speaker in the meeting. Some look at this as yet antoher expression of multitasking in the current technological climate. Others see it as simply rude.

The questiom, then, becomes one of balance between physical interaction with people vs. our ability to accomplish multiple tasks with the aid of technology. While one can rightly argue that social interaction is important, does that mean such interaction must occur in the workplace, especially in roles that are not directly related to customer service? Or, when functioning within the internal realms of an organization, is it better to allow those who enjoy and are able to multitask to do so without the tedium of meatspace interaction slowing them down?

An aside: much is made these days about every role providing service to a customer. Customer is redefined to be anyone with whom you interact professionally. In some cases, the word is modified further to refer to polite human interaction in general. While the author agrees that good manners is important when humans get together, he believes it is a mistake to force all of these interactions into the mold of a service provider servicing a customer or consumer of said service. This ceases to teach actual manners and kindness, and becomes a means of the "customer" exploiting the service provider for as much personal gain as possible on one hand, and the service provider manipulating the customer/consumer out of their hard earned resources on the other.

What the CBS News article doesn't answer, though, is the cynical but probable reason for people performing mundane tasks during meetings. Could it be that many of the meetings we are forced to endure are a waste of time? Perhaps doing other work during dull meetings is enabling people to remain productive when otherwise sitting idle through a poorly managed or irrelevant meeting. is this rude? Yes, but maybe this is one point for those who argue that people need to be allowed to spend more of their time working instead of talking about working. (Thankfully, my company doesn't require me to sit through endless hours of beauracratic nonsense. I pity those who are in such situations.)


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