In an earlier posting I whinged about a conference that had wifi internet available only in certain areas, and implicitly assumed that this was either about cost or logistics. A follow-up comment pointed out that speakers might actually prefer that the audience didn’t have their noses in their notebooks all the time, and the policy might be _intentional_, to compel attention.
Well. That idea had never occurred to me, but I think it’s probably doomed to failure. Take cellphones as an example: at the start we had no cultural norms at all, and had to develop them, and there was a chance that cellphones might have a limited sphere of influence, with cell users as oppressed as smokers are today, in “designated cellphone areas”, or huddling together furtively outside the entrances of their office complexes in winter, sneaking their miserable hasty ration of mobile conversation. But no – mobile phones have essentially won, despite the odd cranky letter to the etiquette columnist. That is, the etiquette has evolved and it’s: turn off the ringer when you’re in a movie, at the opera, or in certain very high-end restaurants and … that’s it.
As wifi becomes more ubiquitous, I think you’ll see continuous partial attention in the workplace become more and more normal and accepted. And so, if you are giving a talk and I am in the audience, you can be assured of my full and undivided attention just so long as you meet one minimal standard of quality: be more interesting than anyone I could be IM’ing with. 🙂