Is there anyone in the world that doesn't get irritated by people talking in the cinema?  You are mentally  'somewhere else', then you get dragged back into the darkened room with the sticky carpet and popcorn on the floor.  You lose your immersion and sometimes the plot.  Being asked about the plot, well that's another perfect way to make sure you miss something.  This is all so obvious and so cliched that I shouldn't need to mention it.  So why when we are engaged in a collaborative coming-together to watch a presentation or video livecast or some other info-share in the metaverse do we suddenly think that back-channels are the greatest thing since sliced time?  The chat channel will be buzzing,IMs will be flying, people will be diverting each other off to tweets and plurks and various other trendy emmissions.  And all of this is suddenly good, and I'm immediately a dinosaur for saying otherwise.  Well there has been a big debate raging recently over this on the ThinkBalm Linked-In group.  One post summed up my feelings perfectly, and with the permission of the author, Christopher Simpson, Professor of English at George Brown College I've copied it here:

I'm going to speak from my experience as an English prof here, but while the idea that "there is no one way to learn" in real life may have a certain amount of truth to it, paying attention is common to them all. Students who text, listen to their iPods, or carry on conversations with the student next to them simply are not learning as well as those who are listening to the lecture -- no matter how strident their protestations are to the contrary.

The idea that multitasking is efficient has gained a certain cache among the technocrati, but the evidence just doesn't back it up. We've all had the experience of someone talking to us while we're half-watching a TV show and then having her be mad at us for the next two days because we answered "yes" to a previous question when the question she had actually just asked was, "Do you think my sister is prettier than I am?"

Or, if not that, then similar.

The brain multitasks in essentially the same way as a computer -- it allocates resources to one task at a time, but switches rapidly between them. And like a computer, the more tasks, the slower the processing. In their 2001 study, Rubinstein, Meyer, and Evans found that the process of switching took up to a full half second, and that while focused on the new task, subjects were basically unaware of the previous one. ("Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching," Journal of Experimental Psychology - Human Perception and Performance, Vol 27. No.4.)

This is exactly the reason people who use cell phones while driving are so much more likely to have an accident than those who are just driving.

It's also partly for this reason that in brainstorming situations, multichannel has always been the preferred option -- even in real life. We form small groups, switch rapidly from one person to the next, all the while taking notes and even looking up information. During the process we shake up our thinking and help new lines of thought form. But that's for brainstorming which, while often a valuable part of business life, is certainly not the bulk of it.

As I've said before, it seems to me that one of the major problems fans of Immersive Internet technology have in conveying its benefits to those who are not yet converts is the tendency to lose track of the purpose of the meeting, and to bombard the subject with all the bells and whistles, leaving the CFO, CIO, or DIP (Dude In Power) with the feeling that he's surrounded by a pack of jittery teenagers who have somehow mistaken a business meeting for a rave.
Fantastic.  Thanks for saying that much better than I ever could Chris.