Wireless Etiquette in Meetings

The Austin Municipal Building has been lit up, so tonight was the first Telecommunications Commission meeting where I had wireless Internet access.

At tonight's meeting we had a number of presentations, from organizations such as the River City Youth Foundation and the Austin Community Access Center. I found that the presentations were enhanced by Internet availability, although I have some concerns about the propriety of using that access during presentations.

When, for instance, Mona Gonzalez discussed the River City program, I was able to visit Mapquest and see exactly where the center is located. When she discussed support for the Computer Learning Lab, I was able to visit their web page and see who else sponsors the program.

Similarly, when John Villarreal discussed ACAC policy, I was able to visit their web site and view their posted information.

The net allowed me to get more out of the presentations. It may have appeared, however, that I was only paying half attention. Some presenters understandably may take offense at this. If I was the one giving the presentation, I might be bothered seeing people staring at a laptop screen instead paying attention to me.

I'm not sure what to do about this. It would be wrong to stop doing online research during presentations. On-line access allows me to get even more out of the presentations.

I could say something like, "Don't mind my web surfing, I'm really paying attention to you." That seems terribly lame.

I hope that with time, this becomes less of a concern. I suspect as Internet access becomes ubiquitous, people will become used to this, so online research during meetings will become less offensive.


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re: Wireless Etiquette in Meetings

It hadn't occured to me that it could be distracting if commissioners were looking things up. But, considering the focus of your committee, people shouldn't be too put off. The fact that the other commissioners might not have the same enhanced experience might be more of an issue.

I suppose, for the benefit of viewers and anyone new to the Commission/the Municipal Bldg being wireless, it would be nice to say that it's now wireless and to plug a City of Austin/community partnership with Austin Wireless City that helped make it happen; might be mouthful but it could also show the City's willingness to have such partnerships.

I welcomed wireless at the Municipal Building for having a way to look things up BEFORE presentations for fact-checking or getting a soft copy of that info forgotten on the desk (yes, I've done that).

Now, mind you, other people in the meeting might welcome having a way to check their emails instead....

re: Wireless Etiquette in Meetings

Personally, I don't mind people clicking away during my presentations or even meetings. It's really my responsibility to keep them interested.

Then there's the meeting ethic: If it's not really vital for them to participate w/o distraction from a laptop, then the meeting probably shouldn't have been called in the first place.

I think we should start a new trend: At the beginning of any presentation or meeting (esp. where wireless is available), we should make a statement: "This auditorium has wireless internet access. If you go to the url: http://meetingethics.org and type in number 1423, you'll get some interesting notes and links about the presentation."


re: Wireless Etiquette in Meetings

I've been intrigued by this for a while. I feel like we've barely got the etiquette for dealing with landline phones worked out. Forget about cellphones. And now we've got computers as this other, intrusive technology for--what should we call it?--fragmented attention or fragmented presence.

Then there's the meeting ethic: If it's not really vital for them to participate w/o distraction from a laptop, then the meeting probably shouldn't have been called in the first place.

I think I disagree with this. I mean, I don't go to meetings, but I can imagine meetings where there's no really relevant information to be found on your computer or on the web, and I really need your attention.

I don't know how we'll deal with this in social terms, though. Perhaps through a combination of technological and social pressure: taking a cue from experiments others have conducted, take random snippets of traffic that pass through the wireless node and project them on a screen. If the snippets are relevant, you are contributing. If they're pr0n, you'll be embarrassed.

re: Wireless Etiquette in Meetings

I imagine the size of the meeting might have an impact. If I'm on a dais before a lot of people, someone with an open laptop is no more distracting than another person taking extensive notes. In a meeting with fewer people around a table, though, it might interfere. But that size group lends itself to setting ground rules for the meeting -- attendees agreeing on agenda and protocol, etc.