With increasing frequency, I have noticed that many audience members at medical meetings are dividing their attention between the speakers and their Blackberries and laptops. Some audience members keep both their Blackberries and laptops running throughout the meeting, and are not engaged at all in the meeting - but I am sure they will claim CME credit for "being there."
It has become routine for some folks, when they are the least bit bored or anxious, to turn to their Blackberries and laptops and start flipping through their e-mail or trolling the Net. Sometimes, they send instant message to other members of the audience, or even the chairman of the meeting.
Do these people realize that it changes the character and value of a meeting if a large fraction of the audience is obviously disengaged, and their minds are somewhere else? Do they consider how it must feel for the speakers, who have worked long and hard on their presentations, to look out at an audience where many members - including some very prominent ones - are ignoring the program, have their heads down and are making furtive movements in their laps?
Some corporations are banning Blackberries and laptops from meetings, so that the attendees will focus on the work at hand.
An additional concern for some speakers is that many laptops, and all current Macs, have the ability to make a video recording of the meeting. Some speakers do not want to be videotaped without their consent, and almost all meetings now have prohibitions on video and photography during the sessions.
There is concern that, in some cases, laptops are being used to secretly record the slides and sound at meetings, and those who keep their laptops running in a meeting could quite rightly come under suspicion.
Kevin C. Smith, M.D., is a dermatologist in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org