Manners first, IT second
Porirua City councillors are currently trialling ipads as a way to cut down on the money and waste used in printing council agendas and reports. Councillors who find the $700 tablet computers useful will need to buy their own after the trial finishes on July 1.
While the benefits of tablets are clear, councillors should also remember the drawbacks of such technology – namely that smartphones and tablets tend to turn their users into distracted slaves to the screen.
Just last month it was reported cafe workers in Wellington City were refusing to serve customers who ordered food and coffees while engaged in a conversation on their phones. Etiquette consultant Ana Maria Moore was quoted in the article saying people were becoming desensitised to technology but manners never went out of fashion.
Manners are arguably more important in the council debating chamber than a cafe. While councillors will naturally use their ipads to consult agendas during Te Komiti (committee) and full council meetings, too much attention paid to phones and tablets gives rise to a suspicion that the ipads are being used to text, email, or even play Angry Birds – for all observers know.
Agendas are provided before council meetings to allow the attending meetings to prepare thoroughly. It is noticeable that council officers present at meetings are rarely seen consulting paper documents, let alone electronic ones.
It is known for councillors to text each other during meetings to confer and gauge opinions before a vote. Among other problems with this tactic, the communication often happens while submitters are still presenting their views. It would take a skilled multi-tasker to hear every word while tapping messages.
Councillors owe residents the respect of their attention at meetings. Presenting to a roomful of elected officials and bureaucrats is clearly an intimidating experience for many submitters.
Of course, it doesn’t take a fancy gadget for civility to be abandoned in the debating chamber.
An ugly scuffle between councillor Litea Ah Hoi and Vikings rugby league club chairman Bernie Wood after a March meeting about Ascot Park’s artificial turf was an extreme example.
But whispering and eye rolls also grate. Councillors might not agree with or like submitters, but they owe them good manners.
I am sure councillors are serious and earnest in their civic duties and most poor behaviour is unintentional or simply force of habit. But as Wellington’s baristas remind us, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that manners never go out of fashion.
Andrea O’neil, reporter.