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Technology Interrupting

The memo had been e-mailed to me so I printed off a copy for the subsequent meeting.  This is not my normal practice; I have eliminated all of my filing cabinets at work and don’t keep paper around.  Our corporate policy does not allow for tablets, so I tend to work from my desktop when I can, occasionally dumping a file on my Android phone or, worst case, printing a copy.  The copy goes straight into recycling after the meeting is over.


The sender arrived with his tablet for the meeting.  He had been using the internal wireless network but it hadn’t properly handed him over to the local access point, so he fiddled around to reconnect.  Then he accessed his e-mail, and opened his attachment.  This was a few minute process, through which I sat at the meeting table, with his memo, to discuss his agenda, waiting for him.

This was the latest example of a what seems like an increasing problem where technology adopters are unable to identify when and how to use their technology appropriately.  This was a simple meeting.  If the guy wanted to use a tablet, fine.  He’s in the IT department and knew wireless was a problem.  Next time, load the document to your tablet so you’re ready to go in case the wireless doesn’t work seamlessly.


Another tablet meeting I had quickly devolved into a discovery hearing.  If you’ve sat through a deposition before, you’ll immediately understand what I’m talking about.  A relatively typical information sharing meeting with a few people around a table will involve a conversation, give and take, and will be nearly non-stop.

Imagine, instead, a tablet user with three non-tablet users at a table.  The tablet user is taking notes – in essence, it’s his meeting – but it’s a new tool for him.  He will ask a question or start a discussion in a normal way, but as soon as anyone else talks, his head drops and he’s busy scrawling on the screen.  And he’s soooo sloooooow.

By the end of the response to the question, he is still transcribing the salient points and there is this rather awkard pause.  That drags on!  In the end, the three of us without tablets would just move on to a different topic until he was ready and then we’d come back to his discussion.  But his plodding use of the tablet meant that he missed opportunities to follow up on his initial questions.

When my kids wanted to start using computers, I introduced them to Mavis Beacon and other typing programs.  If a tablet or a laptop is the right tool to use, great.  But practice using it first.

Skip It

Five of us were waiting in a meeting room and the two consultants walked in.  This was typical, since one usually did the talking while the other transcribed.  This was a relatively informal information gathering meeting so they could prepare a response to an RFP.  Unfortunately, and perhaps reflecting that this was a relatively new team, the lead did the typing and the second just sat there.

The effect was unfortunate.  First, we experienced the same delays that I had found with the tablet user.  The consultant asked some questions and documented the responses.  It wasn’t as awkwardly slow but it still meant that there was time wasted waiting for his typing.

Worse, the laptop screen felt like a barrier between him and our team.  Each time he dropped his head behind his massive Mac Book screen, it was like he was taking a phone call from someone else.  I don’t really like to have meetings with consulting tag teams where one provides admin support to the other.  It strikes me as unnecessary elitist and it makes me wonder if we’ll be paying for superfluous consultants on our project.  But I can live with that on discovery discussions.  If you bring along the sidekick, then use them and trust them to get the information down.

In this case, technology was a barrier and left a bad impression on a potential client.  This was a technology project – we assume use of technology in capturing details and communicating.  We also expect people to know how and when to use the technology when interacting in person.

We may forget how long it took to learn how to use a pencil and paper.  When you watch a child trying to write their name, it can remind you.  If you use your technology as slowly as that child writes, you should make sure you get training or practice to become more effective.  If you are engaging with others and your inability to be effective creates a negative experience or impression for them, you may find that you are losing business or other opportunities.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.