Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Advances in Computing

When I was a student in college (back during the Cretaceous period when the mightly saber-toothed mastedon roamed free), we had to attend our fair share of seminars, colloquia, and other group meeting talks. Back in those days, the laptop computer was some Spielbergian dream, and we had no other options but to actually pay attention to the speaker, and maybe even sometimes, throw out a question or suggestion. In reality, what happened is that those folks under 50 paid heed, while the older folks drifted off into Nodlandia about the time of the second slide (which was, of course, carved in a slab of shale). As of the writing of this blog, I am sitting in an auditorium of some 250 people in a public talk. I would estimate that at least half of the audience has their attention fully focussed on their laptops. Some are checking email, some are looking at photos of puppies (why I don't know), and some are "surfing" the web (whatever that means). Myself, as I have already admitted, am writing a blog. None of us are paying attention to the speaker, or even doing "real" work (again, whatever that is). My, times have changed. There are so many things to do now besides falling into a coma in any public talk. Actually, for those staring at their computers, there is an art to pulling this off without coming across as rude, uncaring, or uninterested. The secret is to look up from your computer screen every 5.23 minutes, gaze intently at the speaker or the screen, and nod knowingly, almost as if you were actually following along with the talk! Wheeee. Sometimes, for the more skilled, they can even stroke their chin during this brief "observation" period and let out a discerning grunt. Of course, this is a more advanced skill and should not be attempted by mere amateurs.