That Actually, Exploding Phones Are No Big Deal
Josh Dickey, an editor at Mashable, just published a blog post about why he’s keeping his Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The smartphones have been exploding left and right, and Samsung is officially halting sales of the device and recalling all phones already in the wild. But Mr. Dickey wants you to know that, actually, exploding phones are fine and good. And he has the Fight Club quotes to prove it.
Dickey’s argument for keeping his potentially explosive smartphone is that there are other dangerous things in the world. He implores us to “take a math break for a second” and look at other dangers in society.
Dickey puts the odds of his smartphone exploding at 1 in 25,000—a statistic that he pulls out of his ass with some really shitty math. He then tells us that there’s a 1 in 12,778 chance of being killed in a traffic accident in California. (This probability comes from statistics that are three years old, but we’ll let that slide.) The bigger problem is Dickey’s comparison of the two probabilities, which is, simply put, idiotic.
Dickey’s comparison commits the fallacy of relative privation, whereby one thing isn’t bad because there are other bad things in the world that are worse by comparison. Using Dickey’s faulty logic, the recent recall of Ikea dressers is nothing to worry about because children are much more likely to die in a car crash than by being crushed by a wobbly piece of furniture that’s acknowledged to be defective.
And as I said, he has the Fight Club quotes to prove that keeping his potentially explosive phone is a good idea:
Is any of this cause to “immediately power down” and hand over what Mashable once called “the greatest smartphone on the planet?” Reason enough to go through the trauma of reconfiguring yet another new phone?
For that answer we turn to the 1999 cult classic Fight Club.
Early in the film, “The Narrator” (Ed Norton) explains his occupation as an insurance actuary, whose job it is to dispassionately determine whether an auto manufacturer should invest in recalling a defect.
The trauma! Dickey then gives us a screenshot of the script during that scene:
Dickey goes on to explain how he crunched the numbers using this fictional character’s equation, and it all makes sense to him why he should keep his shitty, shitty phone.
That’s on a large scale, from the perspective of the manufacturer. But downscaling that formula and flipping it around for just me — and assuming an “exploding” phone will merely self-destruct, not kill or seriously maim anyone — that equation looks like this:
A (number of phones) = 1
B (odds of exploding) = 1/25,000
C (cost of the phone) = about $800
X (A x B x C) = $0.032
In this case, X (3 cents) is significantly less than the cost of participating in Samsung’s recall (time, hassle, device downgrade, etc.). Put another way, would you pay three pennies to avoid going through all that — and with the added bonus of still having the planet’s best smartphone?
Yeah, me too.
I’m keeping it.
I emailed Dickey to ask whether his post was written in earnest or if it was a joke that fell flat. He seemed a bit offended, writing back, “Fell flat??!!”
“Not a joke,” Dickey says. “I will ride this device as far as it takes me, and I like my odds.”
“A lot of folks telling me I’m stupid because it won’t be supported which is probably going to be a real issue at some point,” Dickey continued, without recognizing the myriad other ways his argument is stupid. “I’ll watch to see if Samsung gives us a hard deadline for turning them in and reassess then whether I want to go into the abyss.”
For the record, Mashable has a huge disclaimer on the top of his post:
Editor’s note: Mashable does not condone keeping your Galaxy Note 7, and in fact has recommended strongly against it. This viewpoint is the author’s alone, and his judgment is obviously questionable.
So why did Mashable publish something so idiotic in the first place? Apparently the blog is now in the business of giving equal time to really bad and potentially dangerous opinions.
If you find yourself on a flight with Josh Dickey, you may want to ask him if he has come to his senses and gotten a new phone yet. If he’s still using the Galaxy Note 7, feel free to distract him with talk of the amazing documentary film Fight Club while you signal for help from a flight attendant.