Texas Representative Aims to Ban Usage of Electronic Device By Public Official During Any Public Meeting

March 24th, 2011

This is an absolutely terrible idea. From the Statesman:

A bill by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi , would make an addition to the Texas Open Meetings Act. And it would apply to any public meeting, whether it’s a House committee or a small-town city council meeting.

The measure, House Bill 2977, says an official would be committing an offense if he or she transmits an electronic message — including an email, text message, instant message or Internet posting — during a public meeting.

No penalty has been included in the bill. But Hunter said he’s still considering how to deal with violators.

Why punish supertaskers who aim to be productive?

Hunter, who chairs the powerful House Calendars Committee, said he had a few reasons for filing the bill.

“For one, it’s discourteous if you’re conducting business on a cellular phone or BlackBerry when somebody’s coming in to testify. You need to be focused on those people,” Hunter said.

Seriously? Does anyone actually pay attention to the people testifying? Perhaps in Texas politics it is different, but I’ve watched C-SPAN, and in most cases politicians are speaking to empty rooms. I have even written about the effect of C-SPAN on this grandstanding. In light of public meetings, most prepared statements have little bearing on the merits of the law, but simply aim to express the legislators personal views.

I have blogged before that our society is evolving, and one day compulsive blackberry checking will become social acceptable.

But, I argue that the culture is changing.

As more and more people engage in this compulsive crackberry checking, norms change. It becomes less grotesque, and more socially acceptable.

I’m sure at some point it was uncouth to answer a cellular phone at dinner. Now, it is only marginally improper. I think blackberrying should be more proper, mainly because it creates no distracting noise (other than the clicking of the keys), and is usually finished much quicker than placing a phone call (i can read and reply to a message in a few seconds).

Some people are repulsed when I have a conversation with them, while typing on my blackberry, assuming I am not paying attention. I apologize for any offense I may cause, but years of blackberrying have trained me to multitask like a pro. I’ve tested this with my co-clerk, and I can usually follow 80% of a conversation while I’m typing on my blackberry. I submit that this is not much lower than what I would normally follow if I gave someone my undivided attention. From a utility perspective, I would rather be able to have 2 conversations at 80%, than one conversation at 90 or 95%.

For the present, I am still a social anomaly. But I am confident that over the years, my behavior will become more acceptable.

Pioneers always take the arrows.

This proposed bill represents a bold step backwards.  (Oh, and since I wrote this I traded my Blackberry in for a Droid Pro and love it).