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Pay Attention!

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Last week I received a company wide e-mail at one of the companies that I consult for.  The gist of it was that anyone whose cell phone disturbed a meeting – whether it be a ring, an alarm, a text, an e-mail – would be donating $10 (per incident) to the charity that this company supports.  It went on to be clear that tax receipts would be given to the offenders, and that employees in any foreign division where charitable donations were not tax deductible the amount would be lowered.

My initial thought was that while I think it is a brilliant idea, I do not like being mandated with regard to what charities I should support.

When I gave it a little more thought, I realized that I am not being forced to support the charity; I have a choice whether I am going to bring my cell phone into a meeting or not, and if I am silly enough to do it, then I should be penalized.

How is this fair?

We live in a work of multi-tasking.  Is that a good thing?  With regard to computers it is; no matter how we wish it were so, the human brain has not evolved nearly so quickly as our computers.

When the term multi-tasking was first coined (or at least when it came into my vernacular) it was chiefly with regard to Microsoft Windows 3.0, which ran on 1 megabyte of RAM.  Yes, that is not a typo… 1MB or 1024KB.  Amazing, isn’t it?  And yet, with this great new environment you could have one window in foreground where you were typing, while another program (say, a desktop publisher) running in the background.  The computer was multi-tasking, right?

Wrong.  What the computer was doing would have been more accurately defined as task sharing.  By my understanding of the definition of multi-tasking, two (or more) tasks are run simultaneously at full capacity without affecting each other.  In the heady days of Windows 3, memory management was still in its infancy, and the cost of memory was at a premium, and very few people had more than 2 or 4 megabytes.  Rather than program their environments and applications (we called them programs back then) for the few, most companies wrote their programs to share the computer resources.  Task sharing.

Of course, in the age where all of our tablets have 8gb of RAM it is hard to imagine, but yes that is how things were back then.

Today when we have a meeting with someone it is disrespectful to be looking at your phone every few minutes, and it is disruptive for the phone to interrupt.  That is why the mute button was invented (and why when possible and safe it is even better to leave your phone outside of the office).

So if I choose to bring my phone into a meeting, and not mute it, then why shouldn’t I be penalized for this disrespect?  It is only fair to the person (or people) we are meeting with to show them the respect they deserve; if I opt not to (or forget) then I should be penalized.

I consider myself to be a pretty intelligent guy, and every time I look at my phone to check a message in a meeting I miss something.  Why?  Because like the computers of old, when I commit a piece of my brain to focus on something, it detracts from whatever else I was focused on.

If I want to donate to the charities of my choice, then I will go to my meetings without my cell phone, and I will make whatever charitable donations I choose.  But if I am disruptive and disrespectful… well, I should be glad that it is $10 and not $20.

Of course, like the old joke says: The best way to always remember your partner’s birthday is to forget it once.  Anyone caught with their guard down on this will pay… and will remember the next time!

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