Since, particularly when it comes to relationships, few will argue that inattention is a good thing I have to believe that the differences here are in degree, not in kind. Having said that, Stowe Boyd does make some interesting points, suggesting that, among other things, the phenomenon mirrors how many of us think anyway:
...maybe my sense of disagreement with Linda is some fundamental psychological issue. When I was chatting with her, I recalled my freshman physics class, where the professor simply talked too slow for me. This was in the early 70s so there were no laptops or sidekicks to help me while away the seemingly endless gaps between his words. So I listened to music on a pre-walkman cassette player, and read the text from my chemistry class. The professor actually came up to me after the third or fourth class, to ask me what I was up to, and I told him he spoke so slowly I was going to sleep, so I used this technique to remain -- paradoxically -- focused on the class. After I started to turn in A's he stopped worrying about it.
In my case, it was the rush to finish my grammar school assignments so that I could go read the encyclopedias in the back of the room, which, granted, is a rather low tech division of attention. Was I failing myself? My teacher? I'd like to think that in the course of dividing my attention I was also learning important new things. Truth be told, I did.
Boyd continues the theme here, making the point that media consumption changes us:
I am suggesting that all media rewire us as we learn to accomodate it. And the use of computers -- for whatever purpose, games, blogging, IM, whatever -- is rewiring us, collectively, inevitably.
...The results? Changes in how we perceive the world and our place in it. And this is not just small, subtle changes. They are big, and active. We are actively opting to do things differently. The manner of our adaptations are socially intrusive and disruptive: we IM in meetings, read books while others are lecturing, or look out the windows when we are supposed to be focused on the One Big Thing For Today, Or Else.
Are we more or less mindful now? Having bumped unexpectedly into so many people in the room, maybe we're just asking who's there.