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Around Town: Disengaging from technology

February 09, 2011|By Anita Brenner

I was walking down Foothill Boulevard shortly after dawn with our dog, Miss Audrey Hepburn.

As I walked, I wrestled with an important decision.

My laptop is decrepit. I need a new laptop. What should I buy?

My friends say the PC is dead. One says to buy a Mac. The other says to buy an iPad.

I can’t decide.

I walk Foothill Boulevard, ignoring my dog, checking my friends' texted messages on my phone.

I feel guilty. This is supposed to be my quality time with my dog. I wonder if she notices that I’m not paying attention.

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As I walked, I remembered a book by Sherry Turkle.

Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor. She specializes in the social studies of science and technology. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist.

Turkle has analyzed the impact of digital technology in her new book, “Alone Together.” She reflects on presentations in which members of the audience sit glued to their laptops and phones, texting and surfing the Web. Occasionally, they pay attention to the speaker.

She describes the ride to the airport after the conference, a ride during which global colleagues once forged relationships but now sit silently checking their e-mail. She recalls a young woman who Skypes her grandmother for hours at a time. Unbeknownst to her grandmother, the granddaughter checks e-mail during the conversation. The granddaughter feels guilty.

Just like me.

“Technology,” says Turkle, “makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will.”

Later that morning, I thought about Turkle’s book. I was sitting in court. There was a sign that told us not to use our cell phones. Before the judge came out, the court attendant announced that when court was in session, we were not allowed to use our phones or other devices to check our e-mails.

There was a collective sigh from all four of us.

Four of us. There were nine cases on calendar, but only four attorneys in the courtroom. A dozen lawyers were about to phone in through Court Call.

Court Call telephonic appearances have been around since 1995. They are designed to reduce litigation costs by allowing attorneys “to seamlessly simulate an in-person court appearance.”

The reality is that litigation is more expensive now than in 1995. The other reality is that the Court Call technology is still in the baby stages. It’s just a conference call on a speaker phone. The voices on the phone can be too faint, too loud and sometimes annoying. Without nonverbal clues, people tend to interrupt the judge. There’s probably a technology fix — perhaps video conferencing — but the unintended consequence of Court Call is that opposing counsel can go for months without meeting in person.

On the other hand, why fly to San Francisco or drive to Norwalk when a phone call will do?

Which brings me back to my most pressing decision: iPad versus laptop?

And how do I know when to turn them off?

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com.

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