Is there anything we can’t do while texting?

スマートフォンを操作するビジネスマンたちIf you haven’t watched a movie with a teenager, you’re missing out on a highly visible trend that at first seems annoying: Second screening. Their heads are down and their phones are in their hands as they glance up at the screen only occasionally to see what’s happening. Are they on Facebook, Twitter, somewhere else? Yes. They’re communicating with friends even through some of the most intense dramas and funniest comedies. For adults hoping to share a great film with a younger generation, it can be disheartening to watch.

But ‘kids these days’ are big users of something that adults started called the ‘Connected Web’. They don’t really know a world where an experience is only personal and isn’t to be shared widely. They’re most comfortable when they’re experiencing something together, even if virtually. They’ve become pretty good at doing more than one thing at a time. This profoundly changes how they interact with the world.

Changing the workplace

This trend isn’t going to stay in the home. The desire to experience collaboratively will carry over to the workplace and how work gets done. The good news is that the skill of following along in-person while simultaneously holding conversations comes in handy when there’s a deadline and a pile of things to get done. It has only been a few years since many companies blocked social sites like AOL Instant Messenger in an effort to get people to ‘focus’. It is ironic that we’re now buying software that helps people to have conversations instead.

Let’s be honest…have you been in a meeting and texted or emailed someone in the room with a comment or question on what’s being discussed? Most of us have and we know it as a guilty pleasure. How does the meeting room change when it is standard fare to electronically elbow and kick each other under the table? Two years ago, The New York Times declared it rude, and Orange County, Florida recently struggled with it, but I have to wonder if even in the past two years it hasn’t become more acceptable.

A progression

Just like teens watching television and coworkers texting in meetings, we’re seeing a progression toward constant connectivity and conversation. It can seem crazy to the people who aren’t used to it, but it is as normal as can be for those who grew up in the new environment. It is much like any technology change in the past, in fact. And like the past changes, we’ll all need to get used to it.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Future of work, Social / Collaboration

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

Subscribe to the blog

Subscribe and receive an email when new articles are published

26 Comments on “Is there anything we can’t do while texting?”

  1. Adwowa
    January 4, 2013 at 5:35 am #

    Sure, it’s becoming quite common but it’s not acceptable. Yes, there’s the occasional emergency where you may have to excuse yourself or text very discreetly, but generally, and in principle, it’s rude and unacceptable. Younger people may text all the time, but they don’t text in class, and they certainly don’t think it’s okay for you to text when they’re talking to you. No one likes a half- attentive audience.

  2. Michael Bryan
    January 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I have been in discussions where the phone has been used for looking up content and texting. I was more accepting of the individual browsing for information over them texting. I have experienced how the phone can enhance a conversation with the portability of the in built browser. There have been many a conversation where extending one’s memory to their phone’s browser brought insight and furthered a collaborative discussion. You observe this when a person will temporarily disengage from the discussion after an announcement to all gathered that they are “looking that up”… I think I am ok with that as I am seeing that we will need to use our phones more and more to pull from the quickly evolving pool of knowledge and further a conversation with it. I feel that disengaging from a discussion to text, however, falls into the same line of mannerly behavior as making or taking calls during a meeting. I believe that it would be in good form to put off both until later while participating in any committed social engagement.

  3. Ahmad Nasir
    January 5, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    This is unethical that we text during a meeting, focus should be on the agenda of the meeting is the key. Diverting attention on too many things at one time creates a mess and may result in failure. Texting has become a fashion and not a need…..

    • January 5, 2013 at 7:06 am #

      Ahmad, thanks for your comment. There are lots of people who feel strongly on both sides of this.

  4. January 5, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    From a business perspective, my challenge is that technology has removed communication boundaries. There was once a time when someone who was trying to reach me when I was either in a meeting, away from my computer, etc. would simply have to wait a little longer for a response. Now that communication is “at my finger tips”, there’s a perception that I’m always available even when I’m not. And there’s an expectation that since I have the ability to receive communications (whether email or text) anytime/anywhere, that I should respond immediately.

    With that said, whether you’re responding to a mission-critical email/text or updating your Facebook status, the net effect is the same — you appear distracted (and probably are) and run the risk of others thinking you’re being unprofessional or rude.

  5. Paul Barrett
    January 5, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    One thing that puzzles me is that many of these media were designed for deferred communication. Take SMS. You send someone a message in expectation of a reply sometime. The timing isn’t critical. If it was you’d call. But when the SMS alert arrives, watch how people leap for their phone to reply immediately.

    We seem to be unable to distinguish time critical communication any more and because time critical comms are being pushed down deferred comms channels now we A|LL have no choice BUT to check SMS as soon as that tone sounds just in case it is important.

    Like-wise social media. Rivetting though it may be to learn what someone is doing at any given moment, does it need to insert itself into a meeting? If the purpose of a meeting is to communicate, are we going to have to organise Q&A sessions at the end to see how much people were paying attention?

    We have aggregators to pool inward bound comms. Can we also have broadcast capability so we don’t have to send via n channels? Then meetings would be easy. I could just sit at one end of the table and broadcast while everyone else round the table could ‘listen’ on their preferred channel. But then we could all sit at our desks and do that. Except we called a meeting because if we allowed people to attend from their desks we’d guarantee that people would be distracted. So why do we allow people to bring their desk habits into the meeting room?

    Personally I’d prefer to have a Faraday cage around the meeting room.

    Human physiology doesn’t adapt that fast. We really can only do one thing PROPERLY at a time. Those tweeters / SMSers at al are switching 100% of their attention back and forth. That isn’t a recipe for engagement in any one issue.

    I get sick of having to repeat parts of a meeting because a twit was tweeting and treating the rest of us as unimportant. I called a meetrig because I wanted people’s undivided attention. With rare exceptions, don’t we have a social responsibility to each other to give it?

    If you can’t surive a meeting having left your smartphone outside, shouldn’t YOU stay outside?

  6. Elizabeth Snyder
    January 6, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    I think that texting in meetings is disrespectful. I have a teenager. He is taught regularly to be in engaged in life first hand, be respectful, and accountable for his on behavior and thoughts. This includes his cell phone. I think it is disrespectful to text while ignoring the people or task at hand.

    Cell phones go down at my dinner table. If I may suggest that as leaders we are in a position to create our own corporate culture and meeting room experience. I would consider it a serious problem of employee engagement, team work, etc. if people were sending text messages to one another during meetings. If employees have questions they need to feel free to ask them out loud, it could create a level of collaboration.

    • January 6, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Elizabeth, not sure if you saw the Harvard Business Review thread on LinkedIn (there are a few hundred responses on this question). While most responses are very similar to yours, there are quite a few where people say, “My boss expects me to to answer,” or, “My job requires that I monitor things in real-time, even in a meeting.” I’ve developed the opinion that it’s situational, sometimes cultural, and sometimes very rude.

  7. January 8, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    There’s been a lot of research done on multitasking. You mention “the skill of following along in person while simultaneously …” simply doesn’t exist. Our brains are not wired to multitask, and splitting attention vastly decreases the quality of thought we bring to the individual activities.


  8. Pamela Womble
    January 8, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    In recent days I observed a teenaged male sit at dinner with his family of six for nearly two hours with his Smartphone in hand and his earplugs firmly entrenched. He made no eye contact with anyone, did not speak to anyone, and did not eat anything…in a restaurant! Sadly my initial thought was that he was in prime training mode to become one of the dangerous disconnected sort we read about after a monumental tragedy. I fired an employee this summer because she would not stop texting during work hours in full view of our customers. When I counseled her that texting was akin to taking a personal phone call during work hours, she honestly didn’t get it.

    But I can’t lay this behavior at solely at the feet of young people. I’ve been face to face with colleagues and clients who text or scroll e-mails during a one-on-one meeting with me. This issue is no longer generational. It’s a cultural scourge that’s impacting our ability to communicate, to be present for one another. As a leadership development and workplace diversity consultant, I liken these behaviors to ones described as MicroInequities – “cumulative, subtle messages that occur when these signals are negative or promote a negative bias… that devalue, discourage, and impair performance in the workplace.” ( What seems like an innocuous activity to the perpetrator actually sends a nonverbal message of disinterest and dismissal.
    As for those who defend themselves as great multitaskers – multitasking is a myth. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” ( The brain must free itself from one activity in order to attend to another. Think about it – how many times have you been with someone who comes up for air from their handheld and asks a question about something that you’ve already discussed with others present, or needs a 10 second update in order to get back on course?
    The mother who recently created an 18-point cell phone contract with her 13 year-old son may be on to something. “Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you.”

  9. January 9, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    While I think indiscriminant texting/communication is still seen as a bad thing; I have been in more than one meeting or training where the facilitator encouraged having out smart phones and tablets – to look up information or websites as they were being discussed and ask addtiional questions. I had one speaker who only took questions via Tweet – and that was the day I finally signed up for a twitter account because I wanted to ask her a question. For so many industries and the nature of social policy the way in which technology is viewed and used is changing. Whether you can multi-task or not is the wrong question – the question is what are the expectations.

  10. Paul
    January 9, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    “Head down, writing furiously, only glancing up occasionally at the chairman”

    Happens all the time at meetings: “@SM Please remember to get IT to check the projector in A204” , how else could one afford the time to “@Rob I’ll see you 14:00 to complete test 3”; attend so many meetings with so much work and “@Hestrie Sorry, I am just *too* busy to attend a 1½ meeting on Monday, I am sure you will manage without me”; so little time.

  11. January 10, 2013 at 3:51 am #

    It used to be you would organize a presentation so that you could capture and retain the attention of the audience. No more.

    They will be texting, reading e-mail. Some will be looking up material that could be relevant to the meeting.

    This is not going away so the solution is to change your methods of presentation so that each presentation is made up of mini sessions of communication, all of which can be saved by members of the audience for viewing at a later time.

    One way to do this is using video recordings where your material is either pre-recorded or recorded live.

    And, nothing wrong with a mix of both that lets a speaker engage the audience then sit down and let a short video play.

    • January 10, 2013 at 7:10 am #

      Karl, excellently said. Couldn’t agree more. The days where the speaker can expect full attention no matter how dull or poorly presented the content are becoming history. Read the buzz around the keynote at CES for a good reference.

  12. January 14, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Reblogged this on 2013 and Beyond.

  13. January 14, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    I am a technology librarian. I run a tech center in the local public library. Though the use of text may be unacceptable for some, it has become the communication of the future. I am on the floor of the tech center daily and my cell phone has become my office phone. If its a computer issue or a patron issue the staff know that they can reach me by text. If I am in a meeting and it is an emergency they also know to preface the text with “emergency”.

    The phones vs. tablet debate of acceptability in meetings is also if interest (yes you can text/chat from a tablet). In the position I was in previously at the state level it was noted as unacceptable to bring your phone into a meeting and text or look something up on it (again, I am a librarian), but the moment the iPad came out it was completely ok to use in meetings.

    It would also be interesting to see correlation of these comments to the demographics of the commenter.

    • January 14, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      Very good points. I asked the same thing about demographics but it is tough to tell from pictures on LinkedIn.

  14. January 22, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    It’s simple, in a meeting when someone exposes something and speaks, those at the meeting they must to listen to and if these persons are proactive with his ideas, much better… In this sense, when I speak and someone begins typing a text msg, I stop and not continue, just I do not say anything more. I definitely need the attention of my colleagues, exactly in these moments, I need the best of them.

  15. January 23, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I liked the meetings we had when I was working in the Far East. Everyone stood in a circle, and you got in 5 mins, a recap of yesterday and the plan for today. Works for some types of businesses, not all.

    One of my colleagues worked in the hotel business where the model in use was that sales reps were supposed to be out on the street all day. The easy way to keep the reps focused was to have no chairs The reps came in at 0800 hrs for debriefing/briefing and then had no alternative but to start pounding the pavement.

    I managed for years to minimize the time people would spend in my office by wearing a sweater, setting the temperature at 60, and installing low seating chairs with no cushions.

    People were quick to get the message.

    Simple solutions are the best, if you are able to think of them

    Reminds me of a BBC interview with Stafford Beer. “What do you think about airbags- can you think of anything that might we an improvement on airbags? Answer: “Spikes in the dashboard”.

    To bad I did not know of the BBC interview back then. I might have considered installing spikes in the visitor chairs.

  16. February 10, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Food for thought, folks…a TechCrunch article today defends change:

  17. Jeremy
    February 10, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Excellent conversation. I’m a small business owner myself. We run a ‘mobile entertainment’ company. Last year we hosted 118 weddings, couple dozen corporate holiday parties…and a handful of birthday/private parties. I’ve got four ‘DJ/MCs’ working for me. We ate also responsible for three high schools and a pair of junior highs. Twenty years ago, when I first started the biz…my challenge was making sure my employees showed up on time and dressed for the occasion. Today, while they all tend to dress correctly and most are timely with their attendance, it’s the texting that drives me bonkers! My stance has always been when you’re on stage, you’re a ‘Rock Star!’ Imagine attending your favorite band in concert but the lead guitarist is constantly on his cell phone….or the lead singer is quoting his Facebook posts! It’s rude, immature, and to the audience….it’s just plain unprofessional. There are situations that call for utilizing our smartphones….in fact we are currently beta testing an interactive ‘request’ system….enabling the audience to request songs, answer trivia or ask the DJ a specific question.
    I’ve got an eight year old son. He’s technologically savvy…owns his own iTouch and iPad. But we’ve been diligent in his training to reinforce some of those ‘commandments’ quoted earlier from a concerned mother. These are excellent suggestions and are pertinent not only to children receiving their first phone….but for adults as well. The past half decade has been a whole new world when it comes to instant communication. Whether mms or SMS. Facebook or twitter….everybody is connected 24/7. Doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘disconnected, from the world for a few minutes here or there to appreciate the real world happening in front of us. Our lives are built on our own life experiences. Not those of others in cyber space. As a 42 year old married father….some of my earliest memories are from the same era in life my son is now enjoying. 6-8 years old. IMHO, those early years are paramount for learning life’s lessons, pitfalls and triumphs. Things that can NOT be learned if your nose, eyes and brain are buried in your tablet or smartphone.


  18. John
    February 11, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Its disrespectful to people that don’t understand that a new wave of behaviour has started, first at home and social situations and there is no hard boundary between that and the office space anymore. It’s neither a case or respect or not, in my mind there’s a much faster exchange of information now than ever before and growing even faster, companies have reduced work teams under the guise of do more with less for years, at some point yesterdays behaviours have to change to keep up. Personally I would like to think Id be engaging enough to keep the audience attention regardless, but in the real world you have to adapt and if it’s a situation where no sms, texting, laptop etc etc should distract the audience then say so upfront and make sure they are all turned off, my experience is there is usually a lot of meetings where that would not be necessary, that doesn’t make the meetings redundant. My focus would be on adapting your companies meeting practices to suit the situation.

    • February 11, 2013 at 6:46 am #

      John, I agree with your comments. Thanks for taking the time.

  19. Larry Mann
    February 25, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    People who are caught driving while texting can be cited and end up paying a huge fine. This is a good thing. You don’t want to be running over or into something while making a happy face. :-).
    But we have a huge problem now with pedestrians texting or talking on the phone. Pedestrians walking on sidewalks may be a minor issue, but crossing the street at a crosswalk is very dangerous. Crossing in the middle of the street is totally crazy, and walking in parking lots to and from the car may just be the worst. The issue here isn’t one of rudeness. It is totally about safety, and totally about insane priorities. Parking lots are always an accident waiting to happen. It’s already difficult to navigate when every car is about to pull out of a space, where there are no rules, or even guidelines, on where to walk. But when you add a cellphone to the equation, it looks and feels like total anarchy, with everyone ignoring THE most important issue at hand.
    Wouldn’t a few signs in or near parking lots as well as on the streets asking “is texting really the most important thing?”, in a funny and catchy manner, be a good start?


  1. The business world is but a stage | Successful Workplace - May 11, 2013

    […] they’re disengaged from the moment. Why should we take it any differently when people are texting in a business meeting? It is the job of the person presenting to make sure everyone is ready to give a ‘standing […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: