Law Office Computing
The Tyranny of High-Tech
A Country Boy's Lament
It seems that all too often people operate from the assumption that computers, the Internet, and the digital revolution have transformed the world in only positive ways. This is no doubt true, in part.
It is clear, for example, that the development of democracy throughout the world has been aided substantially by the digital revolution. It is also true that vastly expanded access to information has promoted democracy in this nation. Technology has indeed made many changes in our lifestyle. The Internet has changed business and commerce in many fundamental ways -- we do more in less time and we have more money to spend than ever before. Times are good, are they not?
Let me tell you a few stories ... When I was a boy growing up in the mid-section of the country fifty years ago, I would often walk out of the back door of my house, cross the cornfield and go into the woods with my gun and my dog. I sometimes stayed in the woods all day and even into the night. My mother and father never had to worry. I drank water from the creek and, to put a modern law office management aphorism into a realistic frame, I ate what I killed. Things were pretty simple and we lived pretty well. We had a TV set and a Channel Master antenna.
My best friend Charlie Dickman lived just down the road. He didn't have indoor plumbing, but he had the very best hay barn in all of southern Ohio. (I spent many an hour in that barn climbing up to the highest rafters to collect young squab that I took home and trained as show pigeons. For my effort, I won the Centerville Ox Roast Pet Show with a pigeon named Jerry. I can tell you I was the happiest boy in the world.) Charlie also had a Farmall Cub with road gear -- that was the first vehicle that we learned to drive. I can't imagine having more fun than hurdling down a back country road at 30 miles an hour on the Farmall Cub. It was an experience I will never forget.
I was clearly not completely deprived of technology. I knew about tractors, corn pickers and hay balers. There were lots of other mechanical things around that required attention too -- including a wonderful 1920 Model T flatbed truck that came into my possession. I realized early on that I was pretty good at all that stuff. When I was twelve my father took me to Dayton and bought me a 1935 Harley Davidson 74 motorcycle. We put it in the back of the truck and took it home. My father took it out to the shed and I watched in horror as he took it apart, piece-by-piece, and spread the pieces on the concrete. When he was done he stood up, washed his hands, turned around and said, "Woody, when you get it back together you can ride it." It took me a few weeks and I can't remember ever being more focused on a task than when I put that motorcycle back together. When I got it running, I was a king. I had a girlfriend who lived over in Spring Valley, about 10 miles away, so I hopped on the motorcycle for a visit. Nancy was impressed, I was as happy as I had ever been, and technology has been a big part of my life ever since.
We eventually moved from Centerville into the city -- the city of Bloomington, Indiana, that is: population 10,000, with a major University that added another 10,000. Bloomington, believe it or not, was filled with urban delights -- a world-renowned, University music school; an opera company second only to Julliard's, in the United States; and scores of exotic people from countries all over the world. In the 1953-1954 season the Indiana University basketball team won the national championship and put Bloomington on the map. Bloomington was the world's smallest big city.
I recently saw an article in the paper about the rising populist backlash against the ubiquitous computing vision of digital lifestyle. The story, out of Santa Clara, reported on the many young high-tech executives fleeing to homes that are aptly described as "Luddite" havens. These are homes where no technology exists beyond a simple TV and phone. Many of these modern day Luddites are millionaires many times over, yet they choose to live like the counterculture of the sixties. These folks are at the bleeding edge of modern technology and sense that we are losing something of great value. The “always on” feature of modern technology can take control of our lives and we need to develop new tools for controlling the intrusions. We need to find a way to harvest the efficiency of high-tech without giving up the values we hold dear. As an old friend of many years ago said, “We must make time to smell the roses.”
I often profoundly regret that I am unable to give my children the same kind of experiences that I had as a youth. Growing up a country boy in the 40's and 50's was a truly wonderful experience. However, the old lifestyle has largely passed away. The only thing I have left is the right to say, "I really am a country lawyer." A high-tech country lawyer to be sure, but country to the core!
An earlier version of this article originally was published at Pro2Net