Monday, July 16, 2012

To be or not to be on Facebook?

A few years ago now, one of my younger friends insisted that I risked being “totally irrelevant” because I was not on Facebook. Perceiving my techno-phobia, she decided as a, uhm, gift to take it upon herself to start an account for me and then sent me instructions about how to “just get it done.” I never quite got around to it. But before long, even without finalizing the set-up, I started receiving “friend requests” at the corresponding g-mail address. I thought it was really odd that most of these requests were coming, not from friends, but from people I had known in high school or even in junior high but had not seen or heard from since! And many of those folks hadn’t really been “friends” in the first place. This limited experience suggested to me that Facebook promised to be one enormous time suck, waiting to engulf the overloaded existence I was already struggling to handle effectively. Then I attended one of the scariest continuing legal ed sessions ever—all about how various social media, The Cloud, and smart phones were wrecking havoc on the justice system and on lawyers’ careers. I was duly horrified.

Now I have waited so long, the party seems to be migrating elsewhere. Or at least lawyers seem to think that tweeting and other phenomena are even more important to professional development than being on Facebook. Then again, what would I know about it? I am, after all, a person who decided to join the blogosphere only after it has become bloated to the point that “sphere” seems like a dainty euphemism for a more unseemly condition. And, in any event, this blawg of mine is devoted to proving the relevance of a guy who has been dead for nearly 400 years. . . .

The issue of whether lawyers should have a multi-faceted Internet presence—really, that ship has sailed. So the question is not “to be or not to be” on social media but how to manage the whole branding minefield. I recently noticed that UT Law’s Career Services Office has a web page with tips for law students (and lawyers) about handling the social networking balancing act. It’s worth eyeballing: After all, recruiters and employers can as easily “cyber stalk” potential hires as law students and young lawyers can do so with regard to potential employers.

And because the dangers are so palpable, deciding how to inhabit a wired world really is akin to Hamlet’s existential crisis. On one hand, you have the chance “to end the heartache and the thousands natural shocks that flesh is heir to” by opting out of the whole circus; but on the other hand, the unknown associated with “shuffling off this [wired] coil” may not be “a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.” Going off the grid is kind of like venturing into “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.” And because embracing nothingness is a frightening concept, we are willing to “grunt and sweat under a weary life” of cyber marketing--bearing “those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of.”

Or wait—maybe it’s the fear of embracing the new technology that makes us settle for the old ways. Like the way lawyers refused to give up WordPerfect until some external forced put out the lights.

Either way, “conscience”—also known as “thinking”—does seem to make cowards (or copycats) of us all.

(Hamlet, III.1.56-90).

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