How high-tech drives Luddites bananas | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strrigberger

Law360 Canada (September 10, 2021, 2:32 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Technophobia greatly impacted my working life. I resisted change because I was both a boomer and a member of a very conservative profession. I was called to the bar in 1974 B.C. (before computers). The local courthouse library even still carried a book called Oliphant on the Law of Horses, 1908 edition. I doubt there was a long borrowing waitlist. And I really doubt if you missed the due return date, you’d get a nasty call from the librarian saying something like, “Hey, how selfish can you be.”

I was the youngest in a space sharing arrangement. The mainstay office tool then was the typewriter. If your assistant made an error, she (probably 99 per cent of assistants then were “she”) would dab some liquid whiteout onto the paper, wait for it to dry, and then type the correct characters. Whiteout was our delete function.

Then along came the magic invention: the IBM Selectric typewriter with auto correction. If you made a typo, you just backspaced and hit a correcting button, triggering an erasing ribbon to delete the letters non grata. This awesome device likely rivalled the invention of the Gutenberg press.

I was the first lawyer there, as expected, to get one of these amazing machines. The cost then was about $1,000.

I recall the day the IBM guy delivered and demonstrated the machine. The entire office gathered around. The scene looked like that historic moment in 1903 at Kitty Hawk. “Orville Wright” deliberately misspelled “banana,” adding an extra n. With a devilish smile, he back tracked, magically deleted the word, and retyped it without the offensive extra n. Everyone in the room uttered a loud “aah.”

The oldest lawyer there, Simon, was very skeptical, suspiciously observing the IBM guy. I waited for Simon to leave and return with some firewood and shout, “Don’t believe it. It’s a trick. He’s a witch.”

Computers did not start inundating law offices until the mid-1980s.

The lawyers would hover around our assistants watching with awe how they moved words around or redid pages of script in seconds.

There was no Internet then. If you wanted to look up a word, you opened the Oxford Dictionary, or Roget’s Thesaurus to find a suitable synonym or antonym. I was comfortable with that. In fact, I still have my dog-eared copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, which I bought for 35 cents in 1959.

Then came the end of the century. Remember Y2K, where the doomsayers predicted all our computers would go bananas (spelled properly the first attempt)? That's around the time I started finding practising progressively more frustrating because of lightning-speed technology changes.

One of the rages became the paperless office. Not for this boomer. Although I see advantages of having quick access to reams of information, I like to have a document I can touch and spread on my desk and read, scribbling pencil notes, and making highlights with a yellow highlighter. As well, I was simply not able to fathom paying $2,500 for a medical legal report and then shredding it. Blasphemy!

I found that the tech issues created a new dimension of dependence on an unlikely but not unusual source: our children. I found myself calling my kids for support on everything from what a browser was to how to clear a cache. And what a cache was.

My son Daniel, an insurance lawyer, incidentally, once planned a visit to New York (pre-COVID). I graciously lent him my paper map. He demonstrated his appreciation by unfolding it and saying facetiously: “I am pressing my finger on 42nd Street. How come I am not getting a Google Street View?”

He went on to graciously decline my generous offer of the marked-up and colourful, yellow-highlighted, map that had served me well. Incidentally, I reviewed my will afterwards to make sure I wasn’t leaving him my Roget.

My final years of practice saw the evolution of e-filing, e-discovery, e-this and e-that. I recall attending a conference whereby a young trial lawyer noted that when he conducts a jury trial, he has all the proposed evidence on a computer, demonstrating it on a projector. In court, he hands out iPads to opposing counsel, the judge, the witness, the court registrar and the jury members. I was knocked off my feet. I did, however, say to myself that likely the expense for all these iPads was probably less than the cost of my IBM Selectric.

The kid was adamant that anyone not practising this way was in the horse-and-buggy age. I mentioned this to my smart-ass son, and he asked me who my blacksmith was. (I guess he won’t be looking for a copy of Oliphant on Horses.)

Even filing my annual errors-and-omissions insurance application had to be done online. I was always concerned if while fumbling through, I made errors. Not a good impression.

We lawyers are not the quickest group to adapt to change. And the boomers likely land well off the middle of the bell curve on this one. 

This is a different bell from the telephone system companies. Though tempted, I will not go there, other than to say that when push-button phones came into being and we would get a voice that said: “And if you have a dial phone, please stay on the line,” I stayed on the line. At least that led to dealing with a live person.

No doubt COVID-necessitated tech changes such as virtual trials, Teams and Caselines would have knocked me out of the bell. Not for me. As for Zoom, no thanx. In over 40 years of court hearings, I never got caught with my pants down, (literally at least).

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His just launched book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version by pre-release sale order. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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