March 31, 2008— -- In the headquarters of Dogster, a networking site for pets, employees are allowed to bring their dogs into meetings but they can't bring their laptops or any other electronic device.
Dogster co-founder John Vars said, "If someone's typing away while you're trying to talk, you're not getting those natural human signals to see if someone's interested or understands or even listening."
In the country's high-tech capital, Silicon Valley has gone topless — a phrase coined by Web designer Dan Saffer.
"We looked around and saw everyone on their laptops, so, ... as a joke, said this meeting should be laptop-less," Saffer said.
As with any addiction, there was tech withdrawal.
One Dogster employee said, "Initially, I turned my phone upside down but kept it on — but it had a red indicator light, so I would go to the bathroom to discreetly check it, but I was caught. So, I turned it off completely."
Vars said Dogster's meetings are now "way more productive."
More and more companies are finding innovative ways to run efficient meetings. Some give their employees a glass of water before it starts, so it can't last long. Others make them stand. And some people time a meeting — giving employees just two minutes to make their presentation.
So far, Google, Yahoo and Apple are among the companies encouraging their employees to ditch high-tech distraction and engage with their colleagues.
Topless has gone beyond high-tech companies. Laptops are not allowed in some classrooms at USC's law school. Etiquette coach Colette Swan said, "We are becoming an internalized society. We are living in our laptops, our cell phones, in our texting."
The experts don't call it attention deficit as much as continuous partial attention. As Swan said, "If you're multi-tasking, no matter how good you are, you're still half-ignoring someone else."