Closed September 2017

Are You Paying Attention? Partially?

Blackberry2 BlackBerry prayer n. n. The head-down, slightly hunched position that is characteristic of a person using a BlackBerry or similar device. (from WordSpy site)

So, have you gotten Blackberry religion yet? I bet you know lots of people who have. According to WordSpy, Microsoft researcher Linda Stone coined the phrase "CONTINUOUS PARTIAL ATTENTION" (CPA) in 1998. Wow, she was ahead of her time… there are many people paying partial attention to loved ones, speeches, meetings, and other activities while they attend to games, text messages, Twittering, e-mail, Facebook, and any number of other applications.

This is truly the new challenge in etiquette– how do we handle this "CPA" in everyday situations? Is it always rude? The New York Times ran a fantastic article about this on Monday (thanks, Julie M. for pointing this out!). I also noticed that movie theaters are now specifying not only that you should stop talking on cell phones and silence your ringtones, but are also saying "NO TEXTING" during the movie.

This topic really begs discussion. It's Electronic-Time-and-Attention-Clutter (what I refer to as "Allowed" clutter in my book). Here's what I think:

  • I think people should openly communicate at the beginning of a meeting or speech about the expectations for that gathering. Ask for what you want, don't make assumptions.
  • If you are expecting an important call, text, or e-mail, tell someone that as you sit down together so you can ask their permission and forgiveness for excusing yourself when it happens.
  • If you must take a call or text message when with someone, keep it brief and return your attention to the "IRL" person you're with as soon as possible. (IRL means "In Real Life")
  • I personally have enjoyed Tweeting a speech from my Blackberry while in the audience as a way of taking notes and sharing the experience with others who can't be there. I think that it does not always mean someone isn't paying attention to you– quite the opposite in this case. Using smartphones can become a very important secondary conversation… from the NY Times article: "'You’ll have half the participants BlackBerrying each other as a submeeting, with a running commentary on the primary meeting,' Mr. Reines said. 'BlackBerrys have become like cartoon thought bubbles.'" As a speaker, I am okay with that, but not okay with someone playing a video game or doing other work.

What do you think? Do you have some outrageous stories of terrible breaches of electronic etiquette? Do you have any ideas on how to get clarity on this very pertinent time management issue? Share in the comments…

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Oh my gosh, this is a sore point with me. Do we really need to be connected 24×7? People talking on cell phones when a salesperson is trying to help them? Taking calls during dinner, and outings.
No wonder no one can get anything done.
OK, end of rant…

Jane Campbell, CPO(r)

Honestly, though I understand the exceptions, it seems to be getting used as a non-verbal way of saying, “Gee I’m important.” Not a thing you can say within the standards of modern etiquette, verbally or otherwise.


My first impression is that texting is ruder when you are in a personal or individual conversation. Habitual multitasking and partial attention seems to be an offshoot of simply trying to do Too Much.
I’ve noticed the same thing as a mother – I feel spacier and less focused because no matter what I am doing or who I am talking to, part of my attention is always monitoring the baby situation. But I don’t think a Blackberry is a baby. 🙂

Shirley Nelson

We can also call this muli- tasking, which most people do not do very well. I think it is downright rude to put a cell phone, Blackbery, or whatever ahead of the presence of a live person who thought you were important enough to be with, or a movie that you paid hard earned money to attend, as well as othrs around you. Unless it would cause a dire emergency if you did not have your instrument on during a luncheon date, meeting, movie or any closed gathering, you should leave it off and enjoy the company for that short period of time. If you are comtemplating an important call, put your instrument on vibrate. Church? Check it in at the door! Just teasing! Remember to give yourself a “brain” rest once in awhile.

Genny Esterline

I am one that is trying to always be present in a situation. That means ignoring cell phones etc when in a conversation or meeting. I do agree that there are times when an interruption is necessary and I will alert the person(s) of the possible interruption. I silence or put my phone on vibrate in a business meeting or setting. To remove my angst as a Mom, that one of my children might need me emergently, I make it a point to tell them when I will be unreachable and give them an alternative. I do agree that there are wonderful opportunities as an audience member to share information with your followers and when doing so quietly is a plus for everyone.
Great post.
Genny Esterline

Patti DeNucci

My belief is that anytime your actions are making those around you feel distracted, uncomfortable or unimportant,then it’s probably not good to do them. But there are exceptions. Still those exceptions should be handled as graciously as possible. And, really, DO we need to be connected 24/7? If you believe you do, why is that? It’s a whole new world with a whole new set of tools and technologies but being courteous is timeless.

renee martin

This article can’t help but make me remember what I would consider a breach in electronic ettiquette. When I was pregnant, my fiancee disappeared so my cousin offered to be my labor coach. Not only did she skip most of the labor classes, she sat across the room PLAYING GAMES ON HER CELL PHONE the WHOLE TIME I WAS IN LABOR, occasionally glancing up at me if I screamed particularly loud saying “i don’t know what to do for you,” as if I were breaking her concentration. A nurse pitied me and came in to tell me to breathe through my contractions.


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