Student Economic Review and Phil host Yale in Big Tech debate

Alex Andrés documents the Phil’s latest chamber debate, which saw speakers balancing data-driven arguments with some humour

On Thursday 23 February at 7.30pm Trinity’s Student Economic Review (SER) and the University Philosophical Society (the Phil) jointly hosted the Yale Debate Association in the Phil’s weekly chamber debate, which took place in the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB). 

The Phil, purportedly the world’s oldest debating society, and Yale need I say more went head to head as they considered the motion This House Would Break Up Big Tech. The Phil were on the proposition bench, leaving Yale to oppose the motion for this debate. Three people represented each side; however, following an unfortunate series of events whereby one of Yale’s speakers was denied entry to the country after forgetting their passport, Trinity student Ziyad Anwer stepped in to save the day, agreeing to represent Yale on behalf of the stranded speaker with only 24 hours notice. Anwer did well, coining the term “little tech”, and inspiring calls such as “Ziyad, we love you!” from the lively audience. 

The evening began on a comedic note thanks to the Phil’s registrar Ámhra Carey, who dubbed Yale “the UCD of America”, and in reference to the passport situation, stated that “[Anwer] may not be the first choice, but they are a reliable choice… actually no not really.” Carey’s introduction was deservedly met with heavy laughter from the whole chamber.

The Phil is known to harness engagement through its fusion of formal and contemporary discussion styles, and comedy was indeed utilised (or at least attempted) as a tool by speakers to gain the audience’s favour. This was sometimes presented through over-enthused “passion”, and it seemed as if at times, some speakers would sprint with their ideas or even gallop with their words stumbling, fumbling, and unintelligibly giving us their all. Comedy is a skill, and a few of the night’s speakers should know: it’s okay if it’s not for you. 

Yale’s first speaker, Shyla Summers, delivered one of the more formal but engaging speeches of the night, opening by acknowledging that time was of the essence: “I don’t have the freedom of an introduction, just statistics to begin with.” This was actually funny, but she didn’t rely on humour for her speech’s power. Enthused, comprehensive, and yes, still sprinting with her words but easy enough to follow. Therefore, this allowed us to appreciate Summers’ points regarding the benefits of a technological monopoly and how all tech companies, big or small, will benefit from monetising advertisements, therefore big ones are more likely to enforce real data protection.

Another fantastic speaker who didn’t rely on cheap giggles from the audience for fuel was Naomi Panovka. She was rewarded with a particularly loud round of applause from the whole chamber at the end of her speech, consistent audible approval and disapproval (real impassioned engagement) throughout, and finally, best speaker at the end of the night. She responded to Yale’s points of information such as “you can literally choose not to use Facebook” with an eloquent and profound directness, and along with the Trinity debate team as a whole, used data cohesively, and with delineated explanation.

“The Phil’s use of data and relevant jargon (which was explained to us commoners) was exemplary, and in the end this is what secured them their win.”

As I have just noted, the Phil’s use of data and relevant jargon (which was explained to us commoners) was exemplary, and in the end this is what secured them their win. This win was officially decided by judges who deliberated for a while following the debate, but the more satisfying victory was the one crowned by popular opinion; at the end of debates, students vocally express who they think deserves to win, and on this occasion it was audibly the “AYE” for Trinity.

Some key points delivered by the proposition (Trinity) were that big tech companies “favour theft over small competition”, that consumers are coerced to comply with the use of monopolies, and that “big tech actively try to innovate less” in Steven O’Sullivan’s words, “stagnation does not mean sustainable”.

On the other hand, the opposition’s key points included the argument that most tech companies are naturally occurring monopolies, and that this is not inherently bad due to the ease it provides in locating things online, and collectivising people or data. Also put forward were the arguments that big tech would have massive incentive to invest, and be prepared to better create and uphold data protection.

Following the judge’s deliberation, they announced that the deciding factor in Trinity’s win over Yale was that they provided more economic information and statistics. The level of data presented by both sides was extremely impressive, as were their arguments, ability to engage well, and modes of presentation despite me saying that comedy isn’t for everyone, it was mostly done well (even I laughed). To engage such a large group of people for over an hour while discussing tech companies is really something to be applauded for.