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Indiana Judges Association:The Thinker 2.0

David J. Dreyer
September 28, 2011
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IJA-Dreyer-DavidHave you been thinking lately? Judges and lawyers make a profession of “thinking,” of analyzing, balancing, applying, and just plain old wondering. But do we think like we used to? Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” shows a sitting man deeply pondering. As the figure intensely contemplates, it shows a remarkable image of the perseverance of intellect – what makes us human. Indeed, the sculpture could also be called The Judge, The Lawyer, The Mechanic, even The Parent. Life’s endeavors ask our brain to do a complex job because life presents hard problems that we have to stop and figure out.

But what if Rodin made The Thinker today? It would probably sit with that same intense look, but is it not more likely that there would be an iPhone in its hand? The Thinker 2.0 might be spending more time buying apps than reflecting upon a problem. This is becoming more unsettling, particularly since Nicholas Carr’s provocative 2008 Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains.” Carr examines how human thinking is affected by technology – and raises a warning flag about Google and the Internet. Google believes “information is a commodity,” says Carr, and “the more pieces of information we can ‘access’ … the more productive we become as thinkers.”

What really worries Carr are the consequences of Google pervasiveness. “The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable,” says Carr, “not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. … Deep reading … is indistinguishable from deep thinking.” He laments the erosion of our inclination or ability to build great ideas in our complex minds, and our potential as … “‘pancake people’ spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.” (quoting Robert Foreman)

Now if half of this is true, we judges and lawyers must pause, leave our computers, and think. In this “digital information age,” have we become digital thinkers, or what? As music fans already know, “analog” is oftentimes preferable to “digital.” Digital is not new, but means shorter, separate segments, to be very fast. Historical digital means of transmitting information include smoke signals, Morse code, even Braille. Analog means a continuous stream with more density and content, like a written sentence.

Thinking metaphorically, blogger Dave O’Hara writes, cooking strictly by recipe is digital, but cooking by instinct, reasoning, and preference is analog. Obviously there are speedy digital machines to write sentences. But do the speed and the ease of gathering information affect our time to reflect and form real ideas, not just repeat others? As judges need time, for example, to get behind the reasoning of a case or a brief, the siren of quick information by our digital technology tempts us all to replace slower deliberative thinking. Digital thinking may solve questions with a “pancake” approach,” but what if the case needs a whole loaf of bread?

Maybe we should be analog thinkers with digital law clerks.

But not all authorities are so pessimistic. Duke professor Cathy N. Davidson (Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn) has long studied learning and the Internet. She writes students understand “interconnection” long before their teachers and enjoy remarkable educational results. “Crowdsourcing,” for example, or instant collaboration and idea-sharing, has led her students to find more interest and excitement in coursework, and introduce new ways to learn and write better. Professor Davidson writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that she even included students in grading and, “That democratizing of who can pass judgment is digital thinking.” She recently wrote to me, “I do not believe devices alone affect thinking, critical or otherwise. Practices, on the other hand, are another matter … we need to be teaching kids and adults how to use and contribute wisely to this remarkable new interactive means of exchanging information.”

Our system of justice is irrevocably changed by digital technology because we are changed. Our challenge is: understand the means of thinking may be different, but the substance does not have to be.

Futurist Richard Watson (Future Minds) worries about “screen culture,” and writes, “One consequence of … connectivity is that we are continually distracted … We seldom get the opportunity to sit quietly and think deeply … Digital technology, it seems, is good for spreading and developing ideas, but not much use for hatching them.”

The Thinker 2.0 should have an iPhone – and hopefully knows when to put it down.•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School, and he is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. All the lawyers involved in this don't add up to a hill of beans; mostly yes-men punching their tickets for future advancement. REMF types. Window dressing. Who in this mess was a real hero? the whistleblower that let the public know about the torture, whom the US sent to Jail. John Kyriakou. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/us/ex-officer-for-cia-is-sentenced-in-leak-case.html?_r=0 Now, considering that Torture is Illegal, considering that during Vietnam a soldier was court-martialed and imprisoned for waterboarding, why has the whistleblower gone to jail but none of the torturers have been held to account? It's amazing that Uncle Sam's sunk lower than Vietnam. But that's where we're at. An even more unjust and pointless war conducted in an even more bogus manner. this from npr: "On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier." Today, the US itself has become lawless.

  2. "Brain Damage" alright.... The lunatic is on the grass/ The lunatic is on the grass/ Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs/ Got to keep the loonies on the path.... The lunatic is in the hall/ The lunatics are in my hall/ The paper holds their folded faces to the floor/ And every day the paper boy brings more/ And if the dam breaks open many years too soon/ And if there is no room upon the hill/ And if your head explodes with dark forbodings too/ I'll see you on the dark side of the moon!!!

  3. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  4. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  5. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

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