Friday, 26 June 2009

iPhone application – a moral compass?


Over the past few days it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Apple have launched a new iPhone packed, as the blurb says, with new features. One of the new applications is a compass, so I trekked into the local O2 store to have a look and was quite impressed with the overall package. However, the charges for an iPhone + tariff are still extortionate so I think I’ll hold off for a while.

One of the secrets of the iPhone’s success has been identified as the massive market that has developed in applications for the device. Now I’ve spotted a gap in the market. What we really need is not a compass but, to use Gordon Brown’s phrase, a ‘moral compass’. The news in recent months has been full of stories that point to moral ambiguities and uncertainties not only at the heart of society but also in our hearts as citizens of that society; we seem to lack a framework for how we should live in relation to one another and the wider world around us.

habitat-store Habitat, the trendy high street store, has been attracting a great deal of opprobrium for its use of Twitter. The story is that some bright spark at Habitat thought it would be a good idea to attach Twitter hash tags connected with the situation in Iran to Tweets (twitter messages). When anyone entered #iran on Twitter to get an update on Iran the list of tweets would include those from Habitat directing people to particular products. It was a cheap marketing gimmick, in the poorest taste, exploiting the political turmoil in Iran. The ‘cunning plan’ has backfired in typical Baldrick manner and angered and alienated many users of Twitter and potential Habitat customers.

The chastened company has apologised profusely and sought to explain the situation and you can read more about the sorry tale here Habitat twits. Whether it was an individual’s mistake or a company decision to follow this marketing strategy, one has to ask why no one thought this was a bad idea. Bad, in the sense of it not going to work and also in the moral sense that it was wrong to exploit the Iranian turmoil to try and sell products. Would they ever have dreamed of using the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan to sell bed linen or cutlery? What moral framework do these companies and their employees operate within?

There are plenty of other examples. The politicians who racked up huge expenses on the most bizarre items because they could get away with it and ‘it was within the rules’. Did no alarm bell start ringing in their brains to suggest the rules were wrong? Wealthy financiers, employing armies of accountants to exploit the loopholes to ensure that they and their companies avoid paying tax on their astronomical earnings and profits. The same financiers who throw a hissy fit and threaten to leave the country as soon as a government minister threatens to close the loopholes. What ethical values inform their decisions and behaviour?

I feel uncomfortable when I read these stories and I feel uneasy commenting on them. Why? Because I wonder what I would do placed in the same situation. If I was an MP in parliament would I be caught up in the ‘everyone’s doing it’ (no they’re not) and ‘it is within the rules’ culture? When I fill in my tax return I know the temptation is there to pad the deductible allowances. One of the most sickening aspects of the moral outrage directed first at the bankers, then at MPs and now at BBC executives over salaries and expenses, is that many of those hurling the stones are not so very different.

Michael Gove, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has had to pay back several thousand pounds of expenses. Before becoming an MP the same Michael Gove was a journalist. Now did Mr Gove experience an ontological change when he became an MP, so that he suddenly thought it was OK to do things he wouldn’t have done as a journo? The idea that journalists barclay brosare some how a different moral breed is laughable and I’ve heard more than the odd comment from journalists admitting that they are hardly pure when it comes to claiming expenses. Let us not forget that many of those who own and dictate the editorial policies of our media are not averse to ensuring the most favourable tax positions for themselves and very anxious to keep their finances away from public scrutiny. The Barclay brothers who own the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, which has led the MPs’ expenses campaign, dictate operations from their private fiefdom in the Channel Islands.

The simple truth is that all of us are flawed and in need of a moral compass. Just think about how many of us will vote at the next general election; can we honestly say that our voting intentions will be based on what will ensure the common good rather than what will favour our own personal circumstances?


Actually, now I come to think about it I already have a moral compass on my smart phone; it’s called The Bible. My problem is not that I don’t have a moral compass but that I don’t look at it enough and act on what it says.

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