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May 03, 2010

UPDATED: E-gadgets, E-toys, E-illusions: Making-us-dumb?

A new woodworking tool, in the hands of a master, makes the master more than he was before. In the hands of a fool, it makes the person more foolish.

--Patrick J. Lamb, Chicago trial lawyer, storied Irish-American, business law visionary, master woodworker.

We think the answer is--generally--yes. We've noticed that people keep mistaking their laptops and Smartphones for their brain. Rather than make work easier, e-tools may raise the bar for using your brain.

If e-tools and e-gadgets allow you to do better problem-solving, that may be because they help "open up" and expose the problem you are working on. In other words, the tools--from multiple regression analysis programs to WestlawNext and Lexis to Google Scholar and more--may reveal a different problem: more nuanced and complex, deeper, even bigger.

Now solving the problem will take more time than if you hadn't used them in the first place. There is more of, in and to your problem to sift through and analyze--but you are much, much better off. Good news: you have a bigger and better picture. Those e-tools work great. The bad news: there is more work to do.

That vast arsenal of Digital Tools. They just made your problem a lot fancier--but easier to fathom, and way more clear, even elegantly clear. Now start using your brain (and your e-tools, too) on the problem again. But don't tell us you were done the first time through. You're weren't.

friedman.jpg

Writer-lawyer-Renaissance man
Peter Friedman in a good mood.

So e-tools don't make you (a) smarter or (b) faster. Neither. And maybe just the opposite, especially if you think:

"Hey. Wait a minute. Complex problem-solving no longer requires anyone's energy, time, sweat, or full participation. Everyone's smart now. We have these tools."

Or if you just figure:

"Besides, this stuff at least makes me look smart. That should do it, right? If the going gets tough, there's always the Google search. No worries. Pass the Cheetos, please."

But we hadn't thought about PowerPoint as making-us-dumb before. Maybe we didn't want to.

We've been honest about everyone's struggle (including ours) with the actual utility of All That Tech out there. What really works? How much is overdone, silly or a numbing distraction? And, most importantly, do we know how to use it to get anywhere. See "Wanted: Improved, higher-functioning, digitally-competent Boomers".

With Tech, as with anything else, we put on no airs at this blog--or in our firm's practice--and either should you, about hard things we are all trying these days to get right.

Get over yourself. You're probably dropping the ball with Tech. (We all are.) No matter who you are, Tech poses lots of problems--sometimes very different ones--for people of all professions, ages and cultures. See, and for fun, "Reviewing E-mail: Are you lawyering or typing?".

To its credit, Powerpoint, the popular Microsoft product, over 25 years old and significantly improved in 1996, is still useful in Hull McGuire meetings, litigation and pitches--provided that, like other digital tools, it does not become the main event. But sure, PowerPoint's a flat-out keeper. Besides, and see above, it's something we can handle.

Cleveland-based lawyer Peter Friedman and others have thought about PowerPoint making-you-dumb, or at least rendering you or your audience far less effective. Friedman's a Case Western Law associate professor, visiting law prof in Detroit and Canada, former practicing lawyer (and, no, he's not a prof who gave it the old Siwash try of a full 18 months), former NYC law firm partner, litigator, and friend and fellow Buckeye who writes, among other places, at Geniocity.

Peter Friedman thinks that "PowerPoint might make you dumb, but understanding why can help keep you from being dumb even when you don’t use PowerPoint".

Got that? Read Friedman's piece. You'll appreciate the title even more. Excerpts:

It reminds me of my students when, in response to feedback they don't like, come to me with their work and argue that they really did include in their writing the important points I've said they've neglected.

They even can point me to the words that I can see they really did mean to make those points. But those points are either expressed in language that is too obscure or are put in places in which they do not fit....

All of us have those moments when we believe we have expressed our opinion on a subject effectively, but if that if that opinion is unconnected to the evidence, authority, and reasoning that supports it, if it is buried in words that don't support that opinion, or if in any other way its truth is obscured, it might as well not even be there.

Posted by JD Hull at May 3, 2010 12:55 AM

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