Last Tuesday I attended a middle school concert and loved listening to the kids play and sing with great maturity and sophistication. The concert was a treat, and music and the arts are important components of a solid education foundation. Sitting next to me at this concert, on my left, was a person I had not met before and did not know. But continuously during the concert she kept looking at her smart phone, kept reading messages and kept texting. There is no way that she could have been paying attention to the concert most of the time. And in an auditorium with subdued lighting (except for the stage), it is hugely annoying when the person next to you has this device that keeps lighting up continuously.
Last Thursday, I went to see Aladdin on Broadway which is a great Disney production. My wife and kids had seen the production previously, so I just went by myself. The genie, the overall casting and the flying carpet are all spectacular. The show is a treat. In this bigger than life production, I was literally surrounded by individuals using their smart phones during the performance. If one phone was annoying at the middle school concert, multiple phones are even more annoying.
Now, even before anyone asks, I also look at my smart phone very often. But I don’t look in the middle of performances and I find that before, after, and during intermissions works well and tends not to annoy people. I obviously would also understand if someone needed to use the phone during an emergency.
Many of our faculty colleagues have developed classroom guidelines that limit students’ access and use of smart devices. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it doesn’t work that well. But at least it places some limits on what can be a significant distraction. Guidelines at meetings are less clear. At these meetings, almost everyone has a smart phone. Often before and after the meeting, you will see your colleagues looking at and responding to their email or text messages. But there is another group of colleagues who look for every opportune moment during a meeting and even less than opportune moments to look at and respond to emails, etc. When the person is also very involved in the meeting, there is no way for this to work well. The quality of discussion and interaction has to be impacted. Often, especially if the person is a prominent leader or a superior, the other colleagues involved in the meeting will just tolerate what is happening.
In some situations, there needs to be campus rules for change to happen. For example, I strongly believe in smoking policies on campus so that non-smokers don’t have to be exposed to second hand smoke with all its unfortunate consequences. Without such policies, the small minority of smokers will continue to smoke, often in the most prominent areas of campus and thereby impact many other members of the community. In the use of smart phones, I am not advocating any regulations, other than the need to password protect the phone so that unauthorized individuals don’t have access to confidential information often stored on or accessible through the phone. But I am advocating more courtesy in our smart phone usage and interactions. I’m just not sure it is going to happen.