by David Rosenbaum

Please Stop Playing With Yourself

Nov 30, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

So I’m sitting at a circular table with about a dozen CIOs and heads of IT, eating lunch at the November CIO 07 conference in Phoenix and discussing such compelling topics as enterprise architecture, evil CFOs, recalcitrant users, rapacious vendors and other stuff CIOs live to talk about. And I look around and about half the people at the table are sitting there with their heads bowed, eyes cast down, hands in their laps, thumbs twiddling, shoulders twitching.

Playing with themselves.

Of course, if you asked them what they were doing, they’d say they were conducting business, checking their Blackberries, Treos and smart phones.

But what they were really doing was, as I said, playing with themselves.

And they looked like jerks.

And the habit is spreading. I saw people doing it when I went to a Stanford Web Publishing Seminar a week later. Presenters were presenting, clicking through their PowerPoint slides, giving their all, earnestly attempting to justify their fees, and about a third of the audience was deeply occupied with their own laps.

And in my own office, at my own meetings—even as I’m speaking—people are slumping down in their chairs, heads down, furiously fiddling.

When did this become okay? How did I miss the memo that said it was all right to behave in public as if one were alone in private?

My mother had an absolute rule and yours probably did too: No reading at the dinner table.


For one thing, it interferes with digestion.

But more importantly, it’s rude.

Mom, as usual, was spot on.

This habit of playing with yourself while others are speaking has got to stop. It is more than just rude; it is astonishingly rude. It tells whoever you’re sitting with, or whoever you’re supposed to be listening to, that a) what they’re saying is not worthy of your attention, and b) that you are so incredibly important that your business will collapse unless you are in constant, continuous contact with your office.

There are only two reasons why one would feel compelled to check email, or surf the web, during a meal or presentation: either one is profoundly bored, in which case one should slip away quietly or excuse oneself politely, or one is tragically insecure, fearing that someone may tumble to the fact that you’re not be as important as you’d like to think you are. If that’s what’s driving you to ignore the basic conventions of common courtesy, get over yourself.

If you absolutely must spend some quality time with your Blackberry or Treo or whatever, get a room.

Otherwise, restrain yourself and act like an adult.

Am I wrong?

Who wants to defend this odious practice?

I dare you. I double dare you.