Alone Together

by Jean Tower

I am reading Sherry Turkle‘s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and am finding it really interesting, so far. If you are curious about the book and want to read an interview to learn a little more, check out this interview on the Fast Company web site.


In this interview, as in the book, she makes the point that technology is useful for things like having a virtual meeting with distant colleagues or business partners, but can be intrusive when used at a face-to-face meeting.

Turkle says:

What I’m against is a kind of technological promiscuity, where that technology, so perfect in that [Abu Dhabi] circumstance, is the technology you think is perfect for people to bring into a board meeting, when they need to be working on a problem together. In that case it’s not the technology of choice. They’re not physically present with the people they need to bond with and deeply connect with, and need to make very consequential decisions with.

Taking this thought and applying it to the face-to-face meetings we have in school districts, I began to wonder about the various norms of behavior and what is acceptable from one school or district to the next. Is it an acceptable part of your school culture to “stay connected” during meetings? Are people checking their email or twitter feeds with part of their attention, while focusing only partially on their colleagues and the conversation in the room? Or, have you established norms of behavior that require people to power down when they come to a meeting? If so, are exceptions made for urgent communication or work?

Do you know where you fall on the question of electronics at a meeting? I have to admit I am ambivalent. I tend to pull out my iPhone and check email two or three times in the course of a two-hour meeting. Additionally, there are some meetings that if I could not bring my laptop and work on something I would have to ask to be excused from the meeting – some deadlines are hard and fast. I’d rather be there participating on half-steam than miss it altogether.

On the other hand, I agree with Turkle. The screen that pops up between people can serve as a real barrier to connecting deeply, engaging in a meaningful way, and making decisions that are truly reached by collaboration and consensus, an agreement arrived at by all members together.

What’s your preference? Technology on or off at meetings?

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