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What I learned judging a school debating contest

Every few months (or longer, depending on whether I am in the country) I serve on judging panels for a televised debating competition run by a private TV channel. Today, the topic was one that we had actually done research on: “mobile phones have positive effects on the efficiency of daily life.” The proponents had done their home work and were citing Jensen’s Kerala study, Aker’s Niger research and so on. To beat back the opposition, they were citing the Danish cancer study and so on. They could have cited our work that directly dealt with the subject, but I was not going to hold it against them.

They won, of course.

All the time, my head was on the subject of what I would do if I was on the opposing team. My friend Rafal Rohozinski had an easier task than these kids back in 2009. He could argue for technologies other than mobile; the opposition in this debate had to argue it was not efficient. Tough.

I thought I would have anchored my argument on Solow’s productivity paradox. Yes, you can point to this or that improvement, but in actual fact they all get cancelled out by the distractions and similar negative effects. See, the evidence in the Solow paradox.

What would be your argument?

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