A few years ago (when I was a teenager), I recall a friend's mother telling me something along the lines of "Ignoring someone is the height of ignorance." The implication being that it is offensive to the person you aren't paying attending to. It was an interesting set of wordplay. I suspect in that context, I was staring at the television instead of talking to her. Today, it is more likely going to be due to abuse of the smartphone.
When the topic of multitasking arises, people point in many directions from project management* to personal management to attention management and "walking and chewing gum at the same time." Most of the discussions of multitasking have to do with attention and being able to do individual work. How many studies and articles have come out in the last year that describe people being unable to accomplish complex tasks when under the influence of distractions (music, texting) that pull at their attention? These articles usually fall under the guise of discussions of multitasking.
For example, someone pointed to Taken to Multitask at ChiefExecutive.net that talks about people who are so addicted to dividing their attention that when told to put down their smartphones they picked up playing cards or even macramé, even when their attention was desperately needed. (The macramé was being done by long-haul truckers!).
The impetus for the ChiefExecutive.net article is Christine Pearson's discussions of incivility in the workplace where a large component of this incivility is people ignoring one another in favor of their devices. They claim "multitasking" when they are really bored or driven to distraction. She has a book, The Cost of Bad Behavior, and a related New York Times article from May, Texting in Meetings - It Means 'I don't Care':
AS technological devices have become more portable and more popular, they’ve enhanced our connectedness at work. But they have also led to a greater degree of incivility — a trend that is damaging our workplace relationships.
So, maybe my friend's mother was right. Ignoring people really is ignorant. And I do it at my peril and the peril of workplace civility.
* For what it's worth, my primary interest in multitasking is in the context of projects: working on two (or more) things at once BY DEFINITION means that none of them will get done as quickly as working on one thing at a time. Since projects are a series of interlinked tasks, this behavior guarantees that the projects will not move along aggressive timelines. They will move along molasses timelines.
[Photo: "Civility Is Not A Sign Of Weakness" by Crazybananas]