Conference Speakers 2.0: Swimming in a sea of laptops

Sea Of LaptopsHeather Green from Blogspotting fame reflects on her experience at the Syndicate conference, where she faced the same harsh situation encountered by all panels and speakers nowadays: competition for attention from other sources of information/engagements leading to the bizarre impression that you are addressing a sea of laptops.

Yesterday I was on a panel at the Syndicate Conference here in NYC and it was odd. Looking across the room, I was treated to the sight of people bathed in blue light, busily peering into their computers. It reminded me of when I was in school and I actively ignored the teacher during class.

Maybe people were blogging. Or maybe they really had no interest in anything I or the other folks on the panel were saying. But that doesn’t make sense, because why did they chose to be there then? Either way (and I know folks have been complaining about the whole conference culture) I don’t think there is anything inherently bad about a conference structure. It’s a good way to bring people together. But if the problem is interaction or a desire to get more out a conversation, doesn’t it take two sides to address that problem?

I am speaking and attending a large number of events and conferences, to the tune of 20% of my time I would guess, and since the world does not stop moving when I attend Demo, PCForum or a Microsoft VC Summit, I need to continue interacting with my companies through email, IM and SMS. It essentially forces speakers and panels to be more interesting and engaging than what is in my email, TechMeme, Wikio or my feedreader(s). Not to beat an old drum, but the best way for a panel to grab the attention of an audience is to get into a conversation.

Is this behavior rude ? Probably for now, but in a world of continuous partial attention and extensive crackberrying, it will become less and less noticeable.

Photo Credit: Laptop luminaries – DSCN2911, originally uploaded by Larsz

  • Olivier Ezratty

    I saw the same phenomenon at Blog 2.0 in Paris last december 2005. Not only did over 70% of attendees work on their laptops during panel sessions, but many were chatting and two chat sessions were displayed on screen behind the panelists. At one point, there was even a panelist who was looking at his own laptop and got distracted and laughed while he was talking. He lost track of what he was saying. This was kind of funny! But the whole thing was really disregardful of the panelists. All in all, is this a sort of modern “autism” taking place? Shouldn’t we learn to better behave in the “real world” and get rid of those nasty habits from the virtual world?

  • Hadley Stern

    I was actually at Syndicate and noticed this too. However, as a member of the audience I would guess at least half the people were blogging the conference itself. I guess it is another form of note taking, so the speaker shouldn’t be offended. I will say that I was blogging the conference, taking notes, etc, but also going in and out of email. I think it is an extension of the multi-tasking society we have come. And in some instances I do think it is a little rude.
    I reminds me of a former boss I once had who insisted on no blackberrys in meetings. At first it seemed draconian, but then it made sense.