I’ve finally got round to reading Click, Bill Tancer’s brilliant expose of our secret lives as revealed through our online searches. I was interested in Bill’s observation about modern conference events:
“With the pervasiveness of wireless hot spots and laptops that have built-in wireless capability, conference audiences have turned keynotes into multitasking events, half-listening to presentations while simultaneously answering email and browsing the web.”
What struck me is how the gap is narrowing between face-to-face and online events. You could usually rely on a fully attentive audience face-to-face while bemoaning the ease with which multitasking occurs online. The reality is that the same phenomenon is now occuring in each setting. This is not to suggest that multitasking (or rapid switching between tasks, which is really what is happening) is an evil that is spreading and needs to be stamped out. Multitasking – assuming that the audience is not blogging or tweeting about the presentation, which is a positive sign of even more focused attention – is an exertion of people power. I’ll do what I want when I want. If you can grab my attention and hold it then good for you. If not, then there’s plenty more I can be doing with my time.
Is there a limit? To my mind yes. I cannot tolerate laptops and phones in use during workshops and other highly participative learning events – it’s an insult to all concerned, and if you as facilitator don’t deal with it, other members of the group surely will.