By James Kwak
“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.)”
That’s Christine Pearson, from her article in The New York Times.
There are at least two things going on here. One, which Pearson discusses, is the myth of multitasking. Research shows that when you try to do two things at once, you only do one of them–or you do both of them, but your total productivity goes down. (You would get everything done in less time if you did things one at a time.) Yet most people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this about themselves.
But what about the situation where the meeting you’re in really is useless: you’re not getting any value out of it, and you have nothing to add. Then isn’t it OK to check your email on your iPhone?
Maybe, but you’re still overlooking the cost of being rude to the people around you. That can affect you directly, via their negative opinion of you. Or you could just be contributing to making the world a more rude place.
And you’re probably making yourself less happy, because one component of happiness is mindfulness–being aware of the world around you. Another component of happiness is interacting with people–and no, email doesn’t count.
I don’t claim to be perfect. At Yale Law School, most professors allow laptops in class, and the vast majority of students use them. Not surprisingly, at any given moment, many of them are using them for something other than taking notes or looking at the class reading. I believe I have learned more in classes where professors ban laptops. I even prefer classes where professors ban laptops. Yet, when given the opportunity, I use a laptop–and I sometimes use it for things other than class. How’s that for irrationality?