Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Editorial

No House phones

As a general proposition, admitting smartphones and other devices to the chamber is a recipe for distraction.

January 03, 2011

A new rule proposed by the incoming Republican majority in the House will allow members to use BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPads and other electronic devices on the floor as long as such activity doesn't "impair decorum." At the risk of being called Luddites, we believe this is a dubious advance.

Granted, we would be pleased if members inspired by Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson could text their sentiments to President Obama rather than shouting out their opinions during an address to a joint session of Congress. And some representatives no doubt will use their legalized gizmos to brush up on the details of legislation being debated.

As a general proposition, however, admitting smartphones and other devices to the chamber is a recipe for distraction. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the Republicans, says that the new rule is not "a free license to Skype or pay bills online." But how will the House enforce that edict? The rule says the devices may only be used for official business, but will a page be stationed next to every member to look over his or her shoulder?

We don't want to romanticize the current deportment of members of Congress. In the House and the Senate, absences are frequent; sometimes, as C-SPAN viewers know, members speak to a nearly empty chamber. If a member can duck out to check his e-mail or "friend" a constituent on Facebook, some would argue, why not make an honest man or woman out of that representative by allowing those activities on the House floor? At least the member would be giving divided attention to official business.

But divided attention isn't enough. The current ban on electronic devices requires members, as long as they are on the floor, to follow the debate with no distractions other than their own daydreams and talkative colleagues. That is important both substantively and symbolically. Even in an electronic age, members should be minding the people's business, not their own.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|