Last week I was watching a discussion at a conference when I heard the grating ring of a mobile phone. It was a small room, with fewer than two dozen of us sitting in the audience. The only thing more evident than the phone ringing was the gentle snores of the man sitting in the row behind me.
It was hardly the first time a phone has rung in the middle of a conference and it certainly won’t be the last. I only hoped that the in-demand banker would answer the damn thing and end the noise. He did. Unfortunately, he was on the panel.
Rather than quickly silencing the device, or ignoring it with apparent embarrassment, the owner of the phone pulled it out, on stage, ignoring the panel he was only theoretically a part of.
After a few words were exchanged the call was over — but his phone adventure wasn’t. He began typing away on it, entirely oblivious to the discussion going around him.
His fellow panelists stuttered and stumbled, apparently surprised at his nonchalance. But the man himself was impressively unabashed. He carried on typing, chuckling to himself, then grabbed a microphone and returned to the panel discussion without missing a beat.
Part of me was appalled at the inability of youngsters nowadays to be present for a conversation without drifting off into some digital ether. But another part of me was impressed: this was multi-tasking as performance art.
I considered approaching him at the end to offer my guarded congratulations. I thought better of it. I’ll tweet him instead.