Thanks to modern technology, I now have one more way to seem rude while actually paying close attention. I made this discovery when my friend Jan invited me to the annual meeting of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. Come on, she said, It will be interesting. I’m feeling more social these days so I decided to go . . .
The first part was kind of neat, because free food was involved. We started on a big outdoor patio that contained several tables covered with edible treats. I didn’t know any of the people except Jan, but I did recognize chocolate strawberries when I saw them, so I went at it. A few minutes later I was sated and it was time to go inside to listen to the speakers. Five years ago I’d never have gone near such a thing, but now I resolved to give it a try. I went in and sat down with Jan, her friend, and a table full of strangers.
I nodded politely and sat fairly still as I waited for the program to begin. I can do that, as long as I don’t have to wait too long. Within a few minutes, the crowd settled down and things got going. I wasn’t sure what I was going to hear; I just hoped it would be interesting. I was not disappointed.
The first speaker worked for an outfit called Covanta. I didn’t know who or what Covanta was, but I paid attention as she began to speak. She said her firm was in the business of converting trash to energy. How do they do that, I wondered? In the past I’d have sat there and listened and pondered, but now I can be pro-active. I whipped out the iphone and went on the hunt.
The speaker’s voice faded to the background as I began reading, though I looked up from time to time to make sure she and I were still in the same places.
My first search took me to Covanta’s website, where I learned who they were and what they do. Moments later I was reading about the Bristol trash-to-electricity facility. Being a geek, I was captivated by the descriptions of the burner and boiler installations. That sent me on yet another Google search. . .
As I searched at 100MPH the speaker plodded along at a walking pace. I continued to glance up, but very little was happening. The speaker droned on, and the audience sat quietly. I was quiet too, but inside my mind was churning. Luckily the mental clatter was contained by the flesh around my head and ears.
I sifted through her spoken words for phrases to Google on the iphone. Within moments a description of the latest high efficiency burners was waiting for me on the screen. I read it and had a new appreciation for Covanta, a company that I’d never even heard of a few minutes before.
I looked back up in plenty of time for the speaker’s concluding remarks. When the time came for applause I joined in as enthusiastically as anyone else, fortified by my enhanced understanding.
That’s when I realized how my tablemates perceived my behavior. That’s awfully rude, to just ignore the speaker and work on your computer. But is that really what happened? I think not. The speaker was there as a representative of Covanta, and her job was to inform the public about her company and make them feel good about it. I’ll bet she succeeded better with me than most anyone else in the room, thanks to my little iphone.
I’ll give you some examples . . .
I learned what Covanta does, and where they are based.
I now know what a waterfall furnace is.
I know Covanta’s Hartford plant runs steam turbines at 880psi
I am even familiar with the inspection standards for boilers that run at those pressures.
Do you know any of those things? And how many other people in the room got that out of her talk? I would argue that our speaker achieved her goals better with me than with anyone else there (unless there was another geek with an iphone.)
I have always gotten restless in situations like that because my mind moves faster than any speaker’s voice. Knowing that, I don’t usually go to presentations. But the iphone changed everything for me. Instead of sitting there with questions in my mind, I was free to search and explore while generally guided by the speaker’s words. It was great.
If the purpose of a lecture is to impart knowledge, iphone enhanced listening is a great success. Unfortunately, the other people in the room don’t see it that way. They see me looking at a pocket computer and imagine all sorts of things. Some believe I’m looking at Russian Dream Girls. Others think I’m playing Donkey Kong. No one guessed the truth.
A few people in the crowd might have seen me and thought . . . he’s acting a bit autistic. And maybe I was. But if that’s true, it’s catchy. More and more people are bringing iphones to events, and it’s one more way in which technology is making all of us act a little more autistic at times in exchange for enhanced productivity.
Every time we answer questions with a pocket browser we miss the chance to raise our hands and engage another human. Every time we write an email we lose out on a face to face conversation. At the same time, the benefits of “electronic augmentation” are undeniable. But where does it lead?