Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Banality of Incompetence

I was watching Fox News yesterday morning when a story came on that gave me an uneasy feeling I couldn't quite pin down. This was a story about a new application created for cell phones that would prevent “texting” when the phone was moving at a speed greater than 10 miles per hour. This application was being promoted to parents of teenagers as a way to prevent their kids from “texting” while driving. The presenter went on to describe how the application uses teenage slang instead of standard English in its message telling the user that texting is disabled. This was touted as a “feature.” This I found ridiculous. When older people tell a teenager something that the kid doesn't want to hear in the first place, use of a slang dialect doesn't help. In fact, it is pathetic and insulting, especially when the kid in question does not speak in that way themselves. Kids grow up speaking standard English (or whatever passes for it where they are from.) If you want them to get a message instead of being distracted and insulted by the language used to communicate it, talk to them normally.

But as absurd as the use of slang was in this product, that wasn't what really bugged me. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that this product served no real purpose and was in fact a disservice to the parents and kids for whom it was created. The core issue here is that this product is being promoted for use on phones owned by licensed drivers.

Think about that for a moment.

People who have driver's licenses should not need to have their phones locked down to prevent them from doing something dangerous and stupid while driving. If someone lacks the competence and judgment required to drive safely, playing games with their phone isn't going to fix the problem. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity. If someone cannot be trusted to drive a car safely and competently, then they have no business driving in the first place.

It says something very discouraging about our culture that incompetence bordering on criminal would be considered so ordinary, and even inevitable. Parents of teenagers who refuse to drive safely should take away their licenses and car keys instead of mucking with their phone. The phone is not the problem here, the kid is the problem. Deal with the problem.

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