Over the years, I’ve received a number of compliments about how I’ve implemented technology into my law practice. When I opened my firm more than a decade ago, I saw the potential for technology to level the playing field between solo/small-firm practitioners and larger firms possessing substantially greater resources. I started with a laptop and a scanner and went from there.
Technology has evolved at a rapid pace since I hung my shingle. We can now run our practices from small but powerful devices over widely-available high-speed internet connections from wherever we happen to be. Brick-and-mortar offices are becoming optional luxuries. Water cooler conversations, lunchtime visits, and happy hours with colleagues are becoming less frequent. As an unintended consequence of technological innovation, meaningful workplace connections are harder to come by.
This trend has coincided with the rise of social media and a general sense of distraction in our society. We’re inundated with emails and text messages, and our smartphones buzz with notifications from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and the like. These platforms allow you to follow or “friend” a lot of people, but the online interactions they encourage differ from those in the real world. The sense of human contact and connection just isn’t the same.
Technology is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, and it can be a wonderful tool when used correctly. But technology and social media have created a state of widespread hyper-connectedness affecting us in a way that can’t be ignored: It doesn’t much matter where we are or who we’re with; we can hardly go an hour, or thirty minutes, or five minutes without drifting from the real world to the online world through our devices.
What drives this behavior? Fear of missing out? The dopamine hit that getting a “like” brings? Or are we just bored because constant stimulation has whittled away our attention spans?
The inherent stresses of being a lawyer are hard enough without these distractions. Constant online connection and feedback inundates us with information that can only make the situation worse. We are reminded of tasks not performed and needs not yet met. We are distracted from making progress on important work. Our self-worth takes a hit when we compare our lives to the ones our peers seem to lead based on how they present themselves online. Time that could be spent on self-care and sleep is occupied by mindless scrolling. Though touted as a way to connect people, online-only relationships tend to be superficial and can actually prevent healthy social interaction.
My challenge to you is this: The next time you attend a bar function, CLE program, or other meeting, don’t take your smartphone with you. The world will not end if you don’t “check in” to the event. With the time you may have spent adding the event to your SnapChat story or seeing how many “likes” your latest Instagram post has attracted, talk to the person next to you. Converse with them. Get to know them. This kind of “real world” connection is far more significant than anything you can achieve online, and it could make a difference in someone’s life.
A version of this post appeared in the September 2019 issue of Austin Lawyer.