I was invited to give a research seminar in another department, and two professors kept looking at their mobile phones while I was talking. They were doing this at the start of my talk, and they kept looking at their mobiles for a fairly long amount of time, maybe 15 minutes, without interruption.
My personal view on this is to be tolerant. I accept that nowadays “technology is in our pockets” and the web offers infinite opportunities for distraction. Moreover, people may look at their smartphones for scholarly reasons, for example they may be doing a quick search for literature related to the topic being presented. I do not know for sure what people are doing on their mobiles, and it’s not up to me to discipline their behaviour.
That being said, I think that the basic rules of politeness and consideration for each other’s’ feelings still have a role and place. For example, if I know that I am going to be distracted during a talk, then I sit at the back of the room and try to get unnoticed. If I can’t resist the lure of the smartphone, then I keep it under the table and I try to look at it only for a short time. And maybe add an apologetic smile.
But on that occasion, both professors were sitting in front of me on the first row, with their mobiles in full view, and acted as if my talk didn’t matter. I must add that both professors are much higher in status than me, also the university where I gave the talk is of much higher rank than my university.
I didn’t want a confrontation so I pushed all the unpleasant feelings aside, and I concentrated on my talk. However, I recently thought about this episode, and it occurred to me that maybe I needed to show more assertiveness. Not for the sake of my ego (I don’t care about these two and what they do in seminars), but because assertiveness shows that we care about our research and our value as scholars, regardless of our status.
How would you deal with people overtly and persistently looking at their mobile device (phone, laptop, etc.) during your talk?