Dare to demand attention: Ban that Blackberry, er iPhone, er gadget from meetings

Yesterday, my electricity went out for almost two-and-a-half hours. That meant no phone, no Internet and (after my laptop battery died) no computer. I DID have a mobile phone working for part of that time, which was great because I had a conference call scheduled for moments after everything went on the fritz.

It was during that call that I had the inspiration for this post (although it's something that I've talked about with many, many people): I was completely focused on that conversation, not trying to answer e-mail or responding to instant messages or tweeting. As that old "Fish" management book put so aptly: I was "present" for that meeting and that meeting only.

Someone related a story to me recently about going out on a sales call in which the person with whom they were meeting spent the entire meeting responding to messages on his BlackBerry. Not only is that just plain rude it is just plain counterproductive. But it's all too common. Come on, admit it. Deny it. You can't.

So, when was the last time that you were completely focused on one thing?

I have had asked that question recently of many of my friends and colleagues, and it seems as if we are raising and developing a whole society full of people who have attention-deficit disorder. Indeed, it is almost a prerequisite for getting ahead in today's corporate world. This essay published earlier this week by my long-time friend and former tech marketing executive Christopher Lochhead is a great summary of this whole syndrome, which he calls "technology-assisted distraction disorder."

Incidentally, this IS a generational thing, but only slightly. It s just that the method of distraction is different for teenagers than it is for middle-aged folk like me.

So, here's a challenge for those advocating for a smarter planet, a smarter business. Remember years ago, when we marveled over Computer Associates' practice of shutting off e-mail in the middle of day so people could focus on intrapersonal relationships and (OMG), their actual jobs? I remember thinking: What a great idea! Well, why not ban mobile phones and mobile gadgets from your organization's most important meetings and conversations? Or, require your team to set them aside for a specific portion of the day, so they can focus on other people who are in the same room. Or, gasp, spend a little time staring out the window brainstorming a new strategy. Is that really such a hard thing to ask of yourself or of them?

Of course, it is not lost on me that I wouldn't be writing this column at all if it weren't for my mobile phone, which allowed me to participate in a conference call linking probably 10 different locations when my land-line phone wasn't working. But part of being smart about technology is knowing when to set it aside in favor of good old human-to-human interaction, discourse that is interrupted by mutual consent not be some annoying beep or flashing light.

Stepping off soapbox, now.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com