It was probably among the first things your parents taught you: Don’t interrupt. But the online world has become so full of interruptions it’s time to give it a good spanking, or at the very least make it go sit in a corner and think about what it’s done until it’s ready to apologize.
First there were the pop-up ads, which were annoying enough to inspire pop-up blockers. Soon the blockers were evaded, and eventually we sighed deeply and learned to click on the little X that made the pop-ups go away.
Those were followed by pop-up video ads, and we have now learned to click on their little Xes. Many of us are so resigned to these interruptions we don’t even sigh, growl or cringe any more.
After all, the content we’re reading online has to be paid for somehow, and the pushy presence of those ads may be, on balance, no worse than the television ads we’ve put up with since the Ed Sullivan show, which, to millennial ears, sounds like the dawn of time.
But an escalation of distraction may come from the merger of Microsoft and LinkedIn, the professional networking site with 433 million members. The leaders of these two companies are breathlessly thrilled to tell us that in the future, while you are on an online conference, you’ll be able to pull up LinkedIn profiles of the people you’re interacting with, so you can check out their birthplace, schooling, business background and whatever other information is on their profile.
This means you won’t be paying much attention to what they are actually saying. You will become just like the teenagers whose faces are in their smartphones unless you ban phones from your dinner table. We question whether these corporate giants are onto an intelligent strategy, particularly in light of recent research showing that 98 percent of people really can’t successfully multi-task.
But the real horror lies in the possibility that this merger will invade Word, the ubiquitous Microsoft software used by nearly everyone who writes anything. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Randall Stross, a business professor, reports that in a powerpoint presentation, the leaders of the two companies showed a graph called “a professional profile everywhere” with a disturbing set of arrows, one aimed directly at Word.
This arrow may be a dagger to the heart for writers everywhere, who want nothing more than to be left alone while writing. Does anyone want an online intrusion saying “here’s an expert who knows more than you do about this topic”? Surely not. We have Google for that, and it can be distracting enough, taking us down rabbit holes of tangential information so arcane we lose track of what we came there to find out.
What anyone who writes – whether it’s a letter, a novel or a thesis – really needs is simply to be left alone. So, note to Microsoft and LinkedIn: Don’t interrupt. Please.