Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everyday ethics: The Smartphone

So I had the recent fortune of being at a forum for candidates running for a public office.  I'm not going to be any more specific than that, so as not to publicly make any kind of spectacle or anything.

One of the candidates during the forum was using their smartphone to look up statistics on the internet while answering questions.  This struck me as unprofessional.  Here's someone looking unprepared, googling things on his/her phone DURING the forum.

But then I asked myself, "Am I just being a stogy old guy?"  I admit that I'm not very old (32) and I'm by no means a technophobe (although I don't have a cell phone because I don't think it would be very useful to me, but on the flip side, I've been using the internet since it was all text based and the best search engine around was the world wide web worm). 

So was I being silly?  Lets imagine that in the minds of today's youths, or in this case this particular candidate, they think, "Why research in advance?  I have the ability to research on the fly, so I'll do that, which will probably yield me better results than researching beforehand and trying to remember it all."  Which isn't to say is false.  It probably is true.  I know I've made arguments that I couldn't exactly back up with facts, but knew to be true, and challenged people to google it.  They do, and I'm right.  Is that much different?

So lets say this is the case.  Can I really knock him/her down for not being prepared in advance, when that was his/her plan?  His/her preparedness is at the tips of his/her fingers.

Its entirely possible that what s/he gets from his/her phone contradicts what s/he was going to say. S/he would have to come up with an argument on the fly to make his/her position match the data.  Of course many candidates have to do that when faced with questions.  But without being prepared, his/her argument might suffer.  But what if s/he's a fantastic arguer?  Then this really wouldn't be a "weakness" for this candidate.  Heck it might be something to encourage.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I can't find a legitimate reason to devalue this person's decision, yet I found it extremely off-putting.

Am I judging this person purely on social convention, or is there really something wrong with what this person did?


  1. Interesting, I did not think much of it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I did not know it was a phone. At first I thought it might have been an Ipad or a tablet--... still.. I did not think much of it. I suppose it is because I am of that generation, where seeing someone pull out a device even in a middle of a conversation is starting to become a norm, a very quietly accepted one.

    I think it is important to note that it was a forum for questions. So, maybe the smart thing to do is being prepared with a smarphone-- enabling themselves to nearly answer anything that comes his/her way.

    "Why research in advance...". I know some people that do in fact think that way, but I hope that this particular person understands the gravity of the position he or she is running for and is always prepared, and the smartphone is being used to be ahead of the game.


    I don't think there is REALLY something wrong with what this person did. And I think one of the reason is because it is not cheating. No one is being told they can't use their smartphone, or whatever device they wish. So it is unlike the case where one enters a spelling-bee contest and has an ear-device that connects to home base and someone or something is feeding the correct spelling. And so it is judging by social convention and here it is so bent on image that it is hard to say he/she did something wrong-- Socrates did not look too proper, or prepared when he went before the Athenian people (so we are told) to argue his way of life. I much rather have someone on the fly figure the facts than not, or at a later time figure the facts when it comes to on the spot decision making, or answering a question without the facts-- unless that question[s[ requires dept then i much rather have thought-out answers and not merely numbers being thrown at me, or foggy reasoning. But i do believe a lot rest on what we don't know. I haven't a clue if he or she was prepared-- all I think I reasonably know is a device was utilised by him or her, whiles the other candidates did not do the same-- they didn't even bring a big board with a graph on it-- are they therefore unprepared? Is thinking on one feet being prepared? I think you are judging by social convention, and this convention does not really say anything about right to wrong.

  2. There was a recent televised debate http://www.postonpolitics.com/2010/10/sinks-eight-second-glimpse-of-prohibited-message-creates-debategate/
    where a candidate broke the rules of the debate. I can see the wrongness of breaking procedural rules there. Since there were no rules explicitly prohibiting the candidate from using his/her cell phone, I can understand the desire to use it.

    Still, I have this nagging feeling that this speaks ill of his/her character. But I can't pin it down.

  3. Hmm... This sometimes happens to me while teaching, actually. A nice thing about a wired classroom is that you can just grab info as needed, and students will do that for me too. Now, if I rely on that too much, of course I'm going to fumble around and look unprepared and waste everyone's time. So I prepare a lot and go into class thinking I have everything I need. But if I don't--there's nothing that says I shouldn't look things up.

    As far as the candidate goes, I think the question is whether he/she really did look unprepared, or this was one of those situations where some factoid is unexpectedly needed. If the first, then it's a problem. If the second, well, I wouldn't hold it against them that they looked it up. I'm betting the situation was really the first, or it wouldn't have bothered you.

  4. Well strangely, I didn't notice it at all until s/he pulled this amazing statistic out of the air. Then I noticed that s/he was using his/her cell phone to pull up information.

    I think part of holding forums is questioning the candidates to see what they know and how they would respond. If they can't respond, that's part of the evaluation. But if they use their cell phone, they would be able to respond to the question every time, so long as they had the time to google a bit. So answering a question first would put you at a significant disadvantage, which actually happened. When asked a question, and the candidate w/ the cell phone was the first to answer, s/he had to simply pass, with absolutely no answer.

    I guess that speaks to his/her unpreparedness.

  5. I don't think you were being silly at all. This sort of "on the fly" technology makes it all too possible for a candidate to skate through a debate without actually knowing anything. Anyone who has discussed anything with anyone else through the internet knows how easy it is to find countering information through google. As such, smartphones really shouldn't be allowed in a formal debate in the first place.

    There is no quick wit anymore. There is only quick typing. Nothing separates a candidate who is genuinely interested in the subject (and thus, knows various facts about the subject off the top of his/her head) from a candidate with a smartphone and the ability to google things.