Saturday, May 15, 2010

Technological incivility

I define incivility as behavior, seemingly inconsequential to the doer, that others perceive as inconsiderate. Electronic devices lead to more incivility because of their powerful ability to claim our attention — no matter where we are or what we’re doing. No one likes to be snubbed, of course, but the offense can take on a new edge when the winner is a machine. ...

One of the most annoying examples is texting and checking e-mail while working with colleagues. Some workers would call this disruptive; others would say it is downright insulting.

I’ve given lectures on incivility around the globe. When I ask audiences whether anyone considers sending e-mail or texts during meetings uncivil, almost everyone raises their hand.

Then, when I ask whether anyone in the audience sends texts or e-mail during meetings, about two-thirds acknowledge the habit. (Presumably, there are still more who don’t want to admit it.)

I often hear this rationalization: It’s a way to multitask and increase efficiency. But neuroscientists tell us that dividing our attention between competing stimuli instead of handling tasks one at a time actually makes us less efficient.

Still, the illusion that multitasking can aid productivity is powerful. And it’s abetted by the fact that splitting our attention between real and virtual worlds can produce a kind of neural intoxication, research shows. ...

Count how many times this happens each day, and you begin to understand the cumulative effect of electronic incivility in the workplace. For one thing, other workers need to pick up the slack caused by the wandering attention and diluted energies of their e-cruising colleagues.

Not only that, when people disappear from formal or informal meetings via their electronic devices, their colleagues interpret it this way: “You are less important to me than my cellphone/P.D.A./laptop/latest gizmo.”
--Christine Pearson, NYT, on why you should put away that gadget

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