GeoffLamberton Ethically Speaking

I admit I havent joined the cell-phone set. One day my car will break down and Ill be stranded out back of Wolf Creek surrounded by serial killers and Ill regret my pact never to carry a mobile phone.

But willingly I forfeit my chance to dial NRMA and get rescued in the knowledge that I dont annoy others with a cell phone. Have you travelled on public transport lately? A train trip can be fairly tedious. I travelled by train recently from Katoomba to Sydney with six people, of whom three were constantly on their mobiles.

One guy was doing business. Something about getting some documents somewhere. I couldnt quite get all the details. Another guy was totally bored so he rang up his girlfriend and rambled on for ages. The third was a school girl, and ohmygodtheyreallydotalklikethis.

The peaceful meditative sound of train over tracks was replaced by a mix of inane gossip and intimate but one-sided conversations. Did the business client know their business was happening in public? What about client confidentiality? Mobile phones are being used to fill potentially tranquil space with endless and sometimes mindless chatter. Is this because people are scared of feeling alone?

One approach to deciding what is the right thing to do (which is what ethics is all about) is to consider the consequences of your actions on those affected. As with all technologies we find a way to use it to threaten, destroy or just annoy the lives of others affected by its misuse.

Dont you find there is something incredibly pompous about a person who speaks loudly enough so everyone in a 20-metre radius can hear their incredibly unimportant, self-obsessed ramblings? So the consequence of this type of inconsiderate behaviour is you risk looking like a self-absorbed pretentious egomaniac. And possibly youre not.

Every member of my family has a cell phone, although the kids never have any credit. Only being programmed to receive is a clever way to transfer costs given that my anti-mobile pact doesnt include not dialling mobiles. But I have to admit having just phoned my daughter who is working in a remote village in Kenya, modern communication technology is awe-inspiring. What if someone dies because I cant call an ambulance due to my own pompous obsession that I will never carry a mobile?

So how do we resolve this dilemma? Given the range of positives and negatives the consequential analysis is not clear either way. What we need is an ethical code of conduct signed when a cell phone is purchased. What values will underpin this code? How do we trade off the freedom to communicate against freedom from noise pollution?

I think a code to encourage responsible use would need to be based on ideas such as respect (for privacy and quiet spaces), responsibility (how do our actions affect others?), safe use (never whilst driving). At least this would be an ethical step in the right direction.


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