Don't get upset. I'm not advocating some level of undress for business meetings. Instead, I'm glad to see that some businesses are declaring that meetings should be free of laptops (or 'top'-less), PDAs, etc. This was written up in today's Boston Globe.
Now, sometimes a laptop is necessary in a meeting. That's the case where the presenter or meeting leader needs the laptop to display a presentation or as a focus point of collaboration. I could imagine some types of meetings where you are brainstorming and want people to be able to do their own searches while you come up with ideas. All very good.
But, the cases where people bring their laptops and PDAs in order to sneak a peek at their email or otherwise be distracted are very damaging. If some people aren't paying attention, then others won't either. This makes the meeting even more of a waste of time.
I don't like meetings. I think that they can be very inefficient. I remember having a meeting-hating boss who used to count up the annual salaries of all the people involved in a meeting and announcing every once in a while how much money the meeting had cost. In a big company where everyone feels that they have to be part of every meeting, the cost skyrockets.
Meetings work when there is a clear leader, a defined agenda, crisp discussion and decision making, and well documented action items. A well run meeting can take less than half the time of a poorly run one. And, it can get better results.
If people aren't paying attention, it sends a message that the meeting isn't important and that one person's time is more valuable than the rest. This is very divisive. I'd rather make sure that the meeting is run efficiently, and then let people get back to their office, and the laptops, in order to plug back in to their email, IM, and social networks. You could argue that for some jobs these activities don't add value anyway. So, why would you let people do them in a group setting, dragging down everyone else's productivity?