I Give Up: Electronic Etiquette is a Lost Cause

Over the last year or two I sometimes noticed individual colleagues sporadically checking their phones for texts and messages during meetings.* I found it puzzling since we insist that students unplug during class.

Then last week I went to a meeting of Washington State’s Education Deans. Suffice to say, between a third and half of everyone was working on their phones and/or laptops during all of our conversations. Thirty people around one large conference table, a dean, state legislator, or school district superintendent talking, and 10-15 people unabashedly reading and sending texts and emails.

That’s a critical mass of distracted participants who’ve given in to the tyranny of the urgent. They’re partly sitting around the conference table and partly back in their offices. Half present at both or half absent?

That query suggests what they’re doing is wrong, but it’s too late in the Information Revolution for that conclusion. It is what it is. Don’t look for me to put any of the toothpaste back in the tube. It’s up to Sherry Turkle. I’m waving a white flag.

A month ago I was in an hour long committee meeting with about eight colleagues from across campus. We were sitting around a smallish conference table in Xavier (for those Lutes keeping score at home). I was distracted by an IT/Librarian colleague who wouldn’t take his eyes of his laptop screen. Fifty five of the sixty minutes. It was as impressive a feat of anti-social disconnectedness as I had ever seen.

Points to Ponder

• From Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis-Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomPleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.

• From The Atlantic: Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. [strong counter argument]

• From Sports IllustratedIt’s hard to come up with any measure sufficient to characterize the strength of the Kenyan marathon army, but try this: Sixteen American men in history have run faster than 2:10 (a 4:58 per mile pace); 38 Kenyan men did it in October.

Grit follow up. In Monday’s Boston Marathon, the dude on the far left, Michel Butter, from the Nederlands, was hangin with the Kenyans. Pre-race, the Dutch track federation told him if he finished in the top ten they’d put him on the Olympic team. He finished seventh because of training sessions like this one.

Correction from the exceptional The Science of Sport blog: Michel Butter’s requirement was either to run 2:10, or finish in the top 8 with a 2:12 or faster. He ran 2:16:38 for 7th. So he got the place, but missed the time, and hence the Olympic spot. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, because as I mentioned earlier, the elite men were 7.8% slower than last year’s times, and about 5% slower than their typical race times. Butter missed the target time by 5.1% (the 2:12 standard). Bearing this mind, and that Boston is typically a slower course than the flat races of Rotterdam, London, Berlin etc, I would use discretion and pick him anyway…