When I first joined the fraternity, many moons ago, electronics in the Lodge room wasn’t an issue. When the gavel was rapped and the opening ritual started everyone payed attention and frequently mumbled along with the officers with no distractions.
Today, it is not uncommon to hear before that same gavel rap, “Brethren, please either turn off your phones or set the ringer to vibrate or silent.”
Should the use of cell phones, and by extension, tablets and laptops (I’m using the generic term here to include all devices that have a screen and a keyboard.) be allowed during a meeting?
Of course the first thing you should do is take the time to read through the material published by your Grand Lodge as they may have policies about using electronics. One such Grand Lodge is in Minnesota where in their policy on computer and Internet use, they prohibit the use of any computer, or similar device, during a tyled meeting (Section 8.01(a) of the 2009 Revised Computer Internet Policy of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota).
If you do not have a Grand Lodge policy it then falls to the individual Lodge.
Most Lodges, I would hazard to guess, do not have a policy in place, so unless the Master of the Lodge puts something in place, typically on a meeting by meeting basis, it will fall to the individual.
In some cases the answer is simple enough. I’m speaking of those individuals who are first responders and those that need to be on-call for their jobs. I would also include those that are expecting to add to their families in the very near term, but to be honest I would hope they would choose be close to their loved one rather than at a meeting!
After those it really does become an individual decision, one I would hope would be made with deference to the work being done. So often I have seen, not just at Lodge but also at meetings where I work, folks completely disengaged from what is going on and therefore can’t contribute to the event at hand.
Before you go and point your finger at the Brother sitting next you, ask yourself, is the meeting interesting enough to be involved? That is a topic for another post though.
I would suggest that as a Lodge you look at what you consider acceptable and make it know to the membership at large. Maybe you allow those on the sidelines the ability to use their phones but not the officers. Maybe you don’t allow the use at all during a meeting, as in the case of Minnesota. Maybe you don’t decide as a whole but continue to leave it up to the individual.
If you decide to leave it to the individual they should exercise common courtesy. The ringer should be set to vibrate or silent, and if they must take a call, excuse themselves from the meeting and take it outside.
I would take it one step further, enact a penalty, nothing severe but that also helps another. Have the Lodge select a charity to support for the year and when someone “breaks the rules,” have them make a contribution to that charity in a set amount. Please, do not make the penalty at a level that could induce hardship on the individual, just a little something to say, “hey, you’re not supposed to do that.”
Does your Lodge have a policy about electronics? Do you check your phone during meetings?