The dangers of smartphone distraction at meetings, as seen in “Friends from College”

Sometimes you can find workplace lessons in the strangest of places. One of those places is the opening bit from the season finale of the Netflix “cringe comedy” series Friends from College (Rotten Tomatoes isn’t too fond of it, IMDb likes it a little better, I enjoyed it). The entire series is a set of object lessons in what not to do in life, one of which is particularly applicable to work meetings and smartphones.

In order to get what’s going on in the scene, I’ll need to provide a little background.

The scene features two characters from the series:

  • Ethan (played by Keegan-Michael Key): An author who’s had some critical acclaim, but little commercial success. He’s been convinced by his agent and publisher that his next project should be a “YA” (young adult) novel, a genre that he despises, with a supernatural theme.
  • Max (played by Fred Savage): Ethan’s friend from college and his literary agent. His relationship with his boyfriend Felix, whom he lives with (but with whom he did not go to college), is put under strain by his relationship with his college pals.

In an earlier drug-fueled all-night brainstorming session, Max helps Ethan come up with the basis for the novel: the protagonist of the novel, a girl named Jasmine, is a werewolf. Later on in the series, while visiting their alma mater, the two appear to come up with a key idea for the novel, putting Jasmine on trial for being a werewolf (based on historical werewolf trials), as well as the title for the book, Wolf Trials:

The series finale opens with Max getting Ethan’s Wolf Trials manuscript and gleefully going through the process of preparing it for publication. That’s where he runs into a major snag, which you’ll have to see for yourself in the clip below:

Max had spent a lot of his time at meetings on his smartphone, checking up on his recent ex-boyfriend’s post-breakup activity. In the process, he was completely checked out at all those meetings and missed the fact that a more popular YA author is writing an entire series of books with the same theme and title: Wolf Trials.

There’s an entire montage of Max on his phone at meetings that are all about the other author’s Wolf Trials series…

Max is too busy on his phone to notice that the meeting is about another author’s Wolf Trials novel. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Max walking obliviously past Wolf Trials concept art. Click the photo to see it at full size.

Wolf Trials posters? What Wolf Trials posters? Click the photo to see it at full size.

The best part of the montage is where Max is snapped out of his smartphone fugue state when his name is mentioned at the end of a question. When asked for a suggestion on how to end the other author’s novel, he says that it should end with a courtroom scene, which is the same way Ethan’s novel ends, then gets back to his smartphone:

The fact that he’s drinking from a Wolf Trials mug makes this bit perfect. Click the photo to see it at full size.

I’ve actually seen this in action, where someone in a meeting operated on autopilot, provided an answer that let them get back to what was on their screen, only to later discover that they’d committed them and their team to a lot of work on a ridiculously short timeline. One person’s inattention during a half-hour meeting had led to an entire team’s gnashing of teeth for the better part of a month.

And therein lies the biggest danger of buying into the idea of “continuous partial attention”: you’re not paying enough attention to contribute to or get information from the meeting; you’re paying the minimum amount of attention to quickly dismiss the meeting’s distractions and get back to your smartphone, which is what you really care about. And that could be a career-limiting move.


Tweet of the day



The five stages of White House employment

In light of all the seat-rearranging wackiness taking place in the White House both at the moment and for the past little while, Peter Kuper’s cartoon is quite apt.

Worth reading: Washington Examiner’s article, For Trump, loyalty is a one-way street.


Scenes from our vacation, part 5: Sweet Liberty Drinks and Supply Company

Walking around South Beach and looking at Art Deco architecture is hungry- and thirsty-making work, so our next stop was Sweet Liberty Drinks and Supply Company for lunch, located at the corner of 20th Street and Liberty Avenue. They’ve taken the kitchen of a bistro, the soul of a craft bar, and the vibe of your favorite dive bar, and brought them into a single place.

Sweet Liberty has a beautifully well-stocked bar…

…and a fantastic selection of drinks, from cocktails…

…to a selection of those classic beer-and-shot-o’-booze combos known as Boilermakers…

…to these gems, including all-you-can-drink rosé, which seems to be a popular thing in Miami:

We started off with some chicharrones (fried pork rinds), which were delicious…

…and I had the smoked duck eggs benedict, which was made with sous vide eggs, smoked duck breast, sautéed greens, roasted tomatoes, and hollandaise, all laid on top of potato cakes:

We had a few lovely drinks:

This one’s the Beast of Bourbon…

…and here’s what’s in it:

(In case you’re wondering, “Ango” is hipster bar-speak for Angostura bitters.)

Paintings of Elvis on black velvet are clichéd at this point, so it was refreshing to see a black velvet painting of Kenny instead:

And we had to pose beside their chalkboard of wisdom:

This was a great place to have brunch. The food and drinks were excellent, the staff were charming, friendly, and helpful, and the all-round vibe of the place was fun. If you’re in Miami Beach and looking for a great meal and some cocktails to go along with it, add Sweet Liberty to your list!

Previous articles in this series


Every couple on real estate shows

Don’t they all seem like this?


“Trivial Pursuit” warned us about Donald Trump

Jon Keegan tweeted that when he was playing the “’80s Edition” of Trivial Pursuit with his wife, she spotted this prophetic question:


The Toronto Star’s writeup of my sister Eileen: The People’s Doctor

Dr. Eileen de Villa, outside her office building.

My sister, Dr. Eileen deVilla, is Toronto’s new Medical Officer of Health, making her responsible for the well-being of 3 million Torontonians. In her role, she’s in charge of 1,800 people and an operating budget of $245 million, all with the mission of managing Toronto’s health issues, which range from restaurant food safety to disease outbreaks to infrastructure to social issues that have an impact on people’s health. It’s a big job, but she’s up to it; I put more faith in her guesses than many other people’s sure things.

In today’s Toronto Star, she has a glowing writeup in an article titled How Toronto’s chief medical officer became The People’s Doctor. If you’re in the Toronto area, you’ll be pleased to know that public health there is in excellent hands.

Dad and Eileen, a little while back.

As an added bonus, you’ll learn a little bit about our parents, and why my sister and I get involved in our communities: it because it’s a value that our parents instilled in us. So kudos to Mom, Dad, and Eileen — I salute you all with a filet mignion on a flaming sword!