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Most of us like to talk about the rational decisions we make in purchasing technology for our law practices. But in our society — where the technology we use communicates what kind of people we are — buying and using computers is both a rational and an emotional decision. Herein lies the strength and the weakness of a technology-focused culture — whether law office or global. We can be motivated to extend ourselves technologically because we want the lifestyle and reputation of the technologically adept. But we also can be motivated to overextend ourselves — to purchase too much and try to incorporate an excess of technology into our working lives. The more we adopt the adage “You are what you own” to the technology we place in our lives, the more likely we are to acquire more than we can use. Given that the technology we buy today is so soon obsolete, owning more than we can use or owning anything before we are ready to learn how to use it is a fool’s errand. We seem less inclined to run fools’ errands since Sept. 11 and there are a lot fewer fools with money since the Internet boom went bust. These two events stripped the extreme self-absorption and the hyper-materialistic gluttony from the computer technology community. Human and financial catastrophes have a way of forcing a re-evaluation of what is and is not valuable. RECOVERING TECHNOPHILES It would be easy to take on a puritanical severity and pledge, like recovering alcoholics, never to sip from the cup of technology again. But abstinence is seldom the cure for a bad romance, and trying to reform by renouncing technology misses the point. There are no times better than hard times to partake of those things that enrich us. Whether it is the smell of petunias or PDAs, a new love or a new laptop, don’t surrender the precious resources that bring joy to living. If computers are your catnip, don’t let your boss or your budget tell you that technology isn’t important. We may have learned that there is no soul in the machine, but that doesn’t mean the machines aren’t good for the soul. Absorption in technology can still be a recess from job routine and conventional thinking — without being an excess. We only need to strive for proportionality in the way we use technology. By proportionality, I mean that we don’t over tax ourselves with more technology than we can handle and that we put a priority on what is simplest and least consuming to employ. The measures of simplicity that come to my mind are economy, portability and versatility. Economy doesn’t mean paying the least amount of money to acquire a particular product. It means that we should be economical in our acquisitions. Challenge yourself to fully exploit the capabilities of a few products rather than overrun your life with too many big and little machines. This sometimes means paying more for more integrated devices. For example, rather than walk around with a phone, a wireless pager and a Palm, isn’t it better to spend some extra money to acquire a single device that is all three? That way, you cultivate knowledge of the performance characteristics of one digital tool rather than three. Even if the three separate devices cost less, the distraction and complication of managing multiple technologies is more than worth the difference. Once again, less is more. Economy also applies to how few computers you can own and operate. I have always had more computers than I needed because I always assumed that in the near future, I would be doing more than I am doing now and that the extra capacity would be important to have. Whether I was right about the future or not, I was wrong to buy technology in anticipation of future rather than present needs. All I did was ensure that when and if things worked out the way I hoped they would, I’d be saddled with a less capable system that I’d paid too much money for. My new rule: Never do without what you need, but never buy until you cannot do without. This rule applies for organizations as well as individuals. Long range planning for technology acquisitions ignores the fundamentally transient nature of computer products and the technologies they embody. As far as computer hardware, the future is now; no technology has much of a future. Treat computers like houseguests; you love having them, but only for a while; the longer they stay, the more you regret having them there. Try to switch over from the paradigm of knowing all about all of the technology to one of choosing to know about the technology that matters to you. The hard part is deciding what technology really matters. That is a better focus than treating each generation of computer equipment as a smorgasbord, from which you must have one of everything to be considered technologically hip. Real technical sophistication flows from making the right choices, not the most choices. PORTABILITY Portability is part and parcel of computing simply because it allows for work as you please, rather than having people tell you to please go to work. Defeating the physical conventions of where and when to work are life changers, especially when your organization of one or 100 is focused on performance rather than attendance. Portability means performance without place. Although it takes some retraining of one’s concept of what is “professional,” a lawyer can be as productive on a park bench as in a corner office. Portability has as much to do with how you work as it does where you work. When the physical attributes of office and fixed assets of practice become less a part of how one sees oneself as an attorney, one’s professional focus shifts towards working relationships. In fact, we become more comfortable with internalizing our professionalism as what we know, how well we know it, and how well we share it rather than what we own, where we office and who with. VERSATILITY Versatility in technology means that we choose technology that can serve as many roles as possible in our professional and personal lives. Why have a computer that is only for the office when a computer can be a family photo album, a music collection, a movie theater, a personal dictation assistant and alarm clock, an encyclopedia, a phone, the Internet, your checkbook, a radio, a TV and a game arcade? The portable computer has become life-centered rather than work-centered, enabling its owner to do far more with it than the old-fashioned yin and yang of work and play. We can now integrate what we find supportive and nurturing into our work time, as we untie our work schedules from the conventional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If it is recognized as professional to be drafting e-mail at the beach, then surely it is equally professional to enjoy music while at work, to be comforted by screen savers made of family pictures, or playing a DVD movie on your laptop. Versatility in computing permits versatility in living to such an extent that we learn how to better integrate our labor and our recreation. While these seem to be hard times for those who love digital machines, the truth is that there is no better time for a mastery of what technology is simply enjoyable to us, not for its retail value but for the real values it helps restore to our lives. Sam Guiberson is a consulting attorney who advises lawyers in cases involving digital technology, audio and video evidence, and complex computer litigation support. E-mail: [email protected].

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