Device or No Device? That Is the Question

Long before actor Jennifer Lawrence scolded a member of the foreign press for using a smartphone during a Golden Globes interview, there was buzz about personal device etiquette. Should meeting attendees feel free to use their personal digital devices during meetings or is it just plain rude?

Device or no device? According to a survey conducted by IMEX America in conjunction with Meeting Professionals International, 40 percent of those surveyed agreed with the following proposition:

To maximize attention, delegates should be banned from using personal devices during conference sessions and meetings: they should be told to switch them off and put them away before the meeting starts.

The IMEX Group survey was part of MPI’s quarterly Meetings Outlook research last fall. With pressures and habits to respond immediately to emails, Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, suggests that event leaders and speakers show flexibility and limit distractions.

“Perhaps a more sensible approach is to give delegates space and time within every event to check and respond to important messages, so that they can be fully focused on the content when actually in a session,” Bauer says. “Ultimately, the investment of time and money in attending an event should hopefully ensure that delegates want to stay focused on the content, as much as they wish to keep up to date with their emails.”

According to Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, multitasking is overrated, with tasks taking 50 percent longer to complete when juggling several agendas. Of course, some speakers and event coordinators are using various tools to capitalize on our addictions to personal devices, so a ban is highly unlikely and downright impossible.

“There are a number of apps, such as audience response apps (Sli.do), or even apps that turn your phone into a microphone (crowd mics) that make mobile devices a genuinely useful part of the meeting session or event  when used in the way that the speaker or organizer intends,” Bauer says. “And, the harsh reality in a business context is that, in practice, it would often be very difficult to implement a ban that sticks.”

Device or no device? Maybe this discussion should really be about the impact of multitasking and how to maintain focus in a digital age.

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