Tablets the Answer to Smartphone Distraction in Classrooms and Meetings? Could Be!


There is an interesting article that appeared in yesterday’s Financial Times. The article makes the point that smartphones are a tremendous distraction when used in meetings and classrooms. The cure? Tablets like the iPad and Motorola Xoom.

Before you dismiss it hear the author out. The article picks up off of an MP delivering a speech in the House of Commons using his iPod. (As someone who uses the iPad for services, weddings and funerals this isn’t all that newsworthy for me but, then again, I’m far from the norm.) Shortly thereafter the Speaker of the House said that he could no longer see a reason to ban tablets “so long as they did not disturb others”.

Does that mean that suddenly all of the MPs are going to be playing Angry Birds while discussions of taxes and nuclear proliferation are taking place? Does it mean that they’ll be placing their order on while there are discussions about reducing carbon emissions? Perhaps, but, according to the author, it sure beats smartphones.

As the article notes

Unlike other gadgets, the iPad is not actually meeting unfriendly. That is because the screen sits flat on the table and is large enough to give everyone a good view of what you are up to. If the members of Parliament wish to shop for groceries, they will have to do so in the public eye. Even e-mailing on an iPad is an unpleasantly exposing activity.

The article goes on.

The same is not true of a laptop – where the lid affords a certain privacy. Twice in recent weeks I’ve quite intelligent men in the office hunching over their computers watching a cat trying to insert itself into a small cardboard box on YouTube.

(Note- DAMN! I missed that video!)

It goes further yet.

Small devices are even more dangerous because we have no scruples about their use at all. When I have a BlackBerry in my hand, I suspend all normal rules of politeness and think nothing of checking messages when someone is talking to me. I know this is very bad, but I’m addicted.

In other words the reason why iPads and other large tablets are acceptable and smaller devices are not is simply the fact that it is more difficult to hide what you are doing it on a 10″ tablet than it is on a 3 1/2 or 4″ smartphone screen. If you are playing Angry Birds on your iPad while one of your colleagues is speaking the people near you will see it. Heck, if the meeting is being televised there is a good chance that the cameras will pick up at the image. Not so with small devices.

It is an interesting argument and it actually holds a bit of water for me. My iPad has replaced paper for me in so many ways. To be prohibited from using it in a meeting would actually be a bit of a hardship at this point. And when I have it there I DO use it for work (largely for the very reasons outlines in the article). Yes, I more likely to do only use my iPad for an activity related to what taking place at that moment in the room than I m on my iPhone because while the iPhone is easily hidden from view the iPad is not.

What do you think? Should all electronics be prohibited in meetings and classrooms or should there be clear boundaries established and only those devices that lend themselves to use in public permitted? Tell us what you think in the comments.

(Thanks for the article tip Elana!)

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

1 Comment on "Tablets the Answer to Smartphone Distraction in Classrooms and Meetings? Could Be!"

  1. In my opinion, the real culprit, in the business environment, is that there are too many meetings, too many of which are too long and too boring. Used to be, people spaced out or bit their cuticles or doodled or something; now they play with their smartphones. The boring meetings march on, however.

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