An iPad at Every Seat

After a five-hour flight from LAX, Jim and I deplaned at Newark Airport for a layover. It was dinnertime, so we took a spin around the food court, trying to find something appetizing.

We spotted an Italian restaurant and wandered in.  The décor looked cold and futuristic. There were the strangest squares of plastic propped in front of every seat. Not very appealing so we left.

We went into another restaurant and took a seat at the bar, only to find the same squares of plastic set up on the bar between us and the bartender. Finally we recognized they were iPads.

The bartender came over and we asked her what the iPads were for. She said, tersely, To order.” We tried ordering a round of drinks but apparently didn’t complete the transaction correctly. Frustrated, we asked the bartender if she could take our order.

She sullenly pulled her iPad out and asked us what we wanted, then tapped it in. While waiting for our meals, Jim began playing with the screen (his phone right next to it on the bar. I wish I had a picture!). The iPad could give flight information, enable us to order a meal or promote the concession managing the airport. They boasted about their new technology, including iPads, installed to enhance efficiency and boost the traveling experience.  Really?

Behind us two guys were sitting across from one another at a table, interacting not with one another but each with their iPad.

I’ve written before about the effects of distraction-inducing technology.  Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • Low-grade irritability with no obvious cause
  • Frustration
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Exhaustion that has nothing to do with sleep deprivation
  • Diminishment of feeling close to others, even when we are physically together.

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?

A lot of my clients have challenging jobs, the stress of constant travel and difficulties maintaining a reasonable work-life balance. Add the effects of environmental distraction and you have a recipe for burn out. Although I love my work, I occasionally feel that way too.

The reality is, distraction-inducing technology is all around us. Smart phones (and now smart watches that notify us to take out our phones because we’ve gotten a text). A constant cacophony of noise, especially if we spend time in airports, hotel lobbies or other public spaces. “Busy’ visuals: multiple TV screens, internet pages that leave us with crossed eyes. And now the latest: an iPad at every seat!

We need to do what we can to reduce environmental distraction in our lives in order to have greater productivity and peace of mind.  This message is not news to you. But based on my recent experience at the airport in Newark—which actually produced every one of the effects of distraction-inducing technology—I now have a much greater sense of urgency. When airline concessions equip an entire terminal with iPads at every seat in the name of progress, something has gone too far.