My most hated mobile apps, pt III

To continue my series on the mobile apps I hate the most, I'm going to introduce the app I call the MBA Killer Application.

It's not been once or twice that a young guy in a new suit approaches me and, with eyes lit with excitement, exclaims: "We should have an application which would automatically compare calendars and schedule meetings more efficiently so that we can have more meetings!"

After which I usually grab my most wretched look and sob.

You see, I firmly believe that if we should have any mobile meeting applications, they should be mostly concerned about arranging our schedule so that we could have less meetings. The world does not become a better place if you have more meetings, and while certain amount of meetings is unavoidable (and even great!), trying to schedule your life around them, well, kills you. (Hence the "killer app".)

We at work use Outlook as the calendaring system. Outlook has this wonderful feature which allows you to check if someone is "free" at any given time, so you can schedule a meeting with them. While basically this is a nice idea, it results in odd things like people purposefully marking blocks of time for "work on XXX" or for "free time" or "time to spend with the kids", simply because otherwise they would be all scheduled out. It's a sad thing when you cease being in control of your own time. And I know a lot of people who do that (I do it, too, on occasion).

The thing is that the freedom to lie is a fundamental freedom for us. An automatic system which schedules meetings based squarely on cold facts does not allow us to lie, or even state our preferences: we lose the freedom to think "It's Jim's birthday so I was planning to leave work a bit early to get stone drunk" but say "no, I need to take the car to the shop". Meetings are held only because sometimes getting face-to-face is the best way to accomplish agreement - and it's not going to help that half of the participants would rather be someplace else.

Meetings are a great tool at establishing the common hallucination that we're actually getting things done. A certain number of them are necessary to keep the wheels turning, but anyone who wishes that they could have more meetings should probably be slam-dunk into a large barrel of waste paper and ball-point pens, and rolled down the hill to the recycling plant - in the ever-so-popular Brothers Grimm style. (Or was it snakes and a river? Can't remember.)

We should have calendaring applications that make arranging meetings more difficult, so that you would only schedule those meetings that are genuinely useful.


Perhaps one should substitute "autonomy" for "freedom to lie".

When others get to consistently prioritize their use of my time over my own use of my time, life sucks.

But I don't (well,rarely) feel the need to lie... I'm not that much of a coward!

"Sorry, my kids are more important than your need to have yet another meeting about your pet work project!"

Nope, no trouble communicating that at all.

--AnonymousCoward, 07-Apr-2006

Then you're one of the few enlightened people who have their priorities straight. Good on you!

However, in my experience many people aren't. Especially the young people...

--JanneJalkanen, 07-Apr-2006

Meetings are often the biggest waste of an organisations time. I know of companies that have conference calls involving dozens of people, for several hours, REGULARLY. Conference calls are worse than meetings because people don't fully engage, it's like the mobile foreground/background thing. Every now and then your name is mentioned and you struggle to remember the last 30 seconds of conversation in order to make a relevant comment. Structured meeting agendas tagged with the relevant words might be an idea to ensure that we only have to attend the portion of the meeting that we want to (and it would make it more difficult for people to call a meeting!) I also want to have a calendaring application that allows me to opt-in to meeting times, rather than opt-out by making up fake excuses. Monday afternoon is a time I don't mind having meetings, so I mark that space as 'available for meetings - but only with the relevant tags!'

--Paul Jardine, 19-Apr-2006

Paul, that's a really great idea!

--JanneJalkanen, 19-Apr-2006

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