Here I am, tapping out blog number four on my laptop with my digital (Swedish) washing machine whirring in the background, BBC babbling on the LCD in the foreground, my father boring me with random facts about some random news item that he digested whole this morning on his iPad, emails rolling in on my iPhone and BlackBerry, impious baby screaming for more boob to my left, wife with baby and iPhone in carriage giving me that look, while mother is once more calling out with her oft-repeated query about how to download a Podcast.
Ha! There we have it – first paragraph written through and above the cacophony of this crowded, post-modern, digital life.
I’m not recounting the above out of anger. No, this is not a Marrsian fantasy piece – this is serious stuff that I attempt to bring to your fractured, fragmented attention.
Against my better instincts and belying my prior undertaking, the subject this time relates to law (eventually) more than pornography (see Land of the rising bum ... fluffer blog to come).
I suppose you’re all aware of the scare campaign that The New York Times, among others, has been running regarding the dangers of sitting where you are right now, looking at the screen of your computer or mobile device, reading (or rather half-glancing at) this kind of unmeasured sludge all too often, for far too long?
If you haven’t already flittered off someplace, the scare campaign goes a little like this: overexposure to technology may be reshaping our personalities, retweeking (via retweeting) our brains and turning us into instant-gratification-seeking, non-reflective, hyperactive misanthropes.
To bolster this thesis, the NYT cites the findings of a doctor in the employ of none other than the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford, who reckons:
“We’re paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle.”
In a related piece, The New York Times cites scientists who suggest that this constant juggling of multiple, micro, mishmashed tasks relates to “a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats”.
According to the white coats, these days people are more likely to be in search of a “dopamine squirt” via a technology-based delivery system than a mellow, fuzzy hit from a homemade, plastic bottle bong.
The man on the Bondi tram is after adrenalin measured in Mbps more than offline apathy engendered by hits from the bong.
Chiming in with her own harsh, rather apocalyptic take on all this is Cate Kennedy.
At the time of encountering her argument that we’re increasingly a “prisoner to technology” and collectively facing an “epidemic of obsessive-compulsive disorders”, I felt like tossing my iPhone 3Gs into the murky waters of the Imperial Palace moat.
(I’m getting the new iPhone 4 this week. Smirk.)
I’m rather sympathetic to the technology stole my life treatise.
More often than not, I get that guilty, I’ve-been-wanking (or rather dopamine-squirting), feeling – after I’ve spent a morning, day, night Tweeting, emailing, Skyping, blogging, facebooking, chatting, flickr’ing, instant messaging and otherwise pissing and giggling my way around the internet like a pre-neutered pup running leashless in Central Park.
Countering the fear mongering and guilt stands Steven Pinker, who directs us to calmer waters in the form of the “hey-dude-it’s-jut-totally-like-a-moral-panic-so-like-chill-yo” type argument.
I’m with Stevo on this one, but there’s also a serious, skill-related aspect to all this compulsive obsessive, click-click-clicking, slash-dot-dash-dot-slash-dot-dash-dot-slash-dot-com, now-now-now, yes-but-no-but-yes-but virtual life that’s been overlooked by the scientists, doctors, psychologists and essayists.
It’s the big law perspective.
If you’re an international, cross-border, rock ‘n’ roll, invisible cowboy, heroic hero, deal toy boy, corporate lawyer like me, then it helps to be the hog wild, compulsive-obsessive, clickity-click, ADD’ered, always on high beam, scorched Earth kind.
In fact, I challenge anyone to work on a Brussels-Long Beach-New York-London-Tokyo-Toronto-and-back-to-Brussels-via-Hong Kong deal without developing a ribald addiction to check your email every few microseconds, in between jumping on conference calls, responding to pesky head hunters, arranging your next run of dry cleaning, and emailing those nasty yet necessary, pernicious, non-deal related emails to undermine your colleagues.
Cate’o has pinned a list over her desk of the negative behaviours associated with this always on demand, virtual life (she calls it “internet addiction”) in order to guard against the possible onset of the addiction.
Her list includes the …
“impatient, abrupt manner adopted in real conversations or avoidance of face-to-face communication in the first place; poor concentration; short attention spans; poor sleep; frustration and confusion; increased disinhibition online and decreased empathy in the actual world.”
However, it’s this very type of behaviour that is likely to not only allow me to survive in big law, but help me to utterly thrive – to get a good performance review and bonus dollars in my pocket at year’s end.
I’m going to copy the list and put it over my desk too, but not for the reason Cate’o has.
I’m not going to share these little gems with any of the office sociopaths or psychopaths.
It’s true – the very nature of cross border transactional law demands such mind-numbing, sense-sullying multitasking.
Yet, we are told by scientists that “heavy multitaskers have trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information”.
There’s an element of truth in such conclusions and that’s probably why with each passing six-minute increment I wish that I practiced some other area of law that is more analytical, research-driven and refined than the rough and tumble game of global law entails that has me positioned as a legal, “supertasking” quarterback (understudy).
Don’t believe me? Ask the editor to whom I’ve submitted non-certified, PDF copies of my results.
So, maybe I’m built (or building my growing my “neural circuitry”) for this senseless, full-throttle game of cognitively corrosive big law, even if I do feel heavily concussed most days.
Well, actually, I don’t feel concussed so much as simply spun out and in, detached and disconnected while simultaneously being very much connected and attached to my various technology-based delivery systems.
About halfway through the last deal to run me ragged, the virtual consumed the real and during the back-to-back, 24-hour desk-bound shifts I entered into an anomic, hallucinatory state.
The seriousness of the work faded into the background. Instead, I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio in that scene from The Beach where he’s running around high on drugs imagining that he’s in a virtual, 3-D video game.
Adrenalin pumping, swatting away “immediate opportunities and threats” that flowed to me on a minute-by-minute timing became a surreal game of survival.
Enemy: We can’t get the signatures by tomorrow.
PC Esq: Do it or I will kill you!
Enemy: If agreeable, we are happy to prepare the closing checklist.
PC Esq: Do it or I will kill you!
(Check for new messages.)
PC Esq: Now what? Hut one, hut two, hut three!
I’m primitive, that’s what I am.
Pious Cant Twitters @PiousCant