April 24, 2005

Is Technology Making Us More Scatterbrained?

Information Overload: Many people have and continue to experience it, particularly with e-mail and other types of electronic information. Recently, I've seen a fair amount published on how all this data and technology could be having a negative effect on us. Are our wireless gadgets just making us more wired? Do we need to go on a tech diet?

Consider the following:

Just a few weeks ago, I saw this article on an ADT (Attention Deficit Trait) theory, published by CNET News.com:

"Why can't you pay attention anymore?"
"Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who's studied attention deficit disorder for more than a decade, has identified a related disorder he calls attention deficit trait, and he says it's reaching epidemic proportions in the corporate world. Unlike attention deficit disorder, or ADD, people aren't born with ADT. It's the result, he contends, of the modern workplace, where the constant and relentless chatter coming from our computers, phones and other high-tech devices is diluting our mental powers."

Why he thinks so: "When did you start to notice ADT as a disorder distinct from ADD?
Hallowell: So many people would come to me looking for a diagnosis of ADD, and I noticed some of them didn't really have the condition because it went away completely when they went on vacation, or it went away completely when they went off to a relaxed setting.

In ADD--the true ADD--it doesn't go away, wherever you go. So I realized that these people were having it induced by their work world. When they got to work, then symptoms would start to occur. So that meant that something was going on at work. That something is this overload."

Then today I read this:
"Emails more damaging than cannabis"
"Researchers at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry have found that the constant distractions of email and texting are more harmful to performance than cannabis. Those distracted by incoming email, phone calls and text messages saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking cannabis, according to the researchers. Some 1,100 volunteers were used in the study, sponsored by HP."
And while looking up a good definition of "Information Overload" at Wikepedia.org for this post, I came across this gem:
"Information overload is a term that is usually used in conjunction with various forms of Computer-mediated communication such as Electronic mail. It refers to the state of having too much information to make a decision or remained informed about a topic."

Under "Causes" for this entry, one finds:
"The subjective component of information overload comes from our having more information available to us than we can readily assimilate; this is a perceived phenomenon - though it is clearly no less real on that account - and is sometimes referred to as "technostress" . Perceived technostress induces a correlate perception that users are being controlled by ICT rather than being empowered by it. Like any other kind of stress, technostress results in reduced intellectual performance and poor judgment; this is well-known to cognitive psychologists." (ICT appears to be a reference to "Information and Communications Technology".)

The funny thing is that I was all set to talk about the cool things Ernie is posting over at his new blog, Tech Feng Shui. His theme is making technology more simple and useful -- something we all need, and it looks to be off to a great start.

But then again, if we're reading this additional information on our PCs and mobile gadgets, aren't we just degrading our mental abilities to be able to deal with all this information and technology in the first place?

Ironic, isn't it?

[4.25.05 P.S. As with most things, moderation and balance are usually good ways to overcome some of these issues. Getting "unplugged" on a regular basis is also important, whether it be a few days away or just turning off the gadgets. Getting enough sleep is also important for our intellectual and emotional well-being. Lastly, I'm glad to see that Gizmodo picked up on this post today, as finding balance with information and technology is sometimes quite challenging.]

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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April 21, 2005

Survey Reveals Most Appealing Career Alternatives for Attorneys

Robert Half Legal recently published some interesting survey results as to what occupations attorneys would consider if they left their current jobs. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of responses indicated a legal-related field. Mediation/ADR counselor came out on top at 54%.

Per the site: "It was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 200 attorneys among the 1,000 largest law firms and corporations in the United States and Canada. All respondents had at least three years of experience in the legal field." Respondents were also allowed more than one answer.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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April 17, 2005

LawTech Guru Honored in ABA TECHSHOW "60 Sites"

I'm incredibly honored that LawTech Guru was included in the "60 Sites in 60 Minutes" links which were recently published on the ABA TECHSHOW 2005 site. Web veterans Jim Calloway, Robert Ambrogi, and Jeff Flax listed a cornucopia of cool and interesting sites in the popular TECHSHOW highlight. Thanks guys.

Be sure to check out the other sites listed -- no matter how long you've been on the Web, you'll likely find something worth the visit.

Topic(s):   Other Musings  |  Web Wizardry
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April 16, 2005

The Future of USB Flash Drives

USB flash drives are great, aren't they? Tiny, portable, they work without needing special drivers in Windows 2000 and XP for basic features, and so on. But just how long can you expect them to store your data reliably?

The downside to many forms of flash memory is that it has a limit to how many "writes" you can perform to it. I've seen the specs on a number of flash media, and it's not uncommon to see 100,000 writes as the specified limit. Granted, that's a fair amount, but it's still limited. I've also noticed that some manufacturers don't even publish this information, and I question their motives.

A number of people, including myself, have recognized that flash memory is best used as short-term storage. Which is why they're used as floppies, MP3 players, photographic storage in digital cameras, etc. Many of us know that the data needs to be backed up to more robust storage media. But I still wonder if the CDs and DVDs burned today will be readable just 5-10 years from now (and how long we'll continue to use CD/DVD drives).

Even hard drives are not truly long-term storage -- we just keep porting the data from hard drive to hard drive, especially since most people upgrade to new computers, say every 3-5 years on average as an educated guess. So flash is an even more transitory convenience, and a good one. I do like that it's solid state, as I've dropped my thumb drive more than once without experiencing any problems. I shudder to think what would have happened if it were a tiny hard drive.

Jeremy Wagstaff (Loose Wire) has this great article on the future of USB flash drives. He recently talked with various manufacturers and saw their upcoming offerings. Jeremy posits that as hard drives continue to get smaller yet hold more and more, eventually we may just look back nostalgically at flash drives as "charmingly limited in what they could do for us." Rather like the original Pong video game.

And he may indeed be on the right track. Flash drive capacities, even at 2GB, are still too limited for more storage-hungry applications, such as taking your entire song, video, and/or photo collection with you. I was just sizing up the latest iPod offerings, and the Shuffle holds very little appeal to me -- far too limited for the price, even with its conveniently small size. Conversely, the iPod Photo is the Apple of my eye, even though I wish it were a bit more svelte. If I were to see an iPod Photo in half the form factor with longer battery life, you'd know what I'd run out to buy.

Until that day, there is a heck of a lot one can do with a flash drive. Check out Jeremy's other post of all the things you can run directly from a USB flash drive. There's likely something for everyone.

Until hard drives can get as small and slim as flash drives, there's still value in having a tiny storage device that doesn't bulge in my pocket or blocks my PC's adjacent USB ports -- as long as I can still fit a useful amount of files on it. But I'm with Jeremy in that I'm still waiting for a more robust, power-friendly, tiny, portable, higher capacity, long-term storage solution. I can dream, can't I?

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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April 10, 2005

The PR Impact of Blogs

BeSpacific has a great post with a link to this interesting whitepaper: "Trust 'MEdia' - How Real People Are Finally Being Heard", with the subtitle, "The 1.0 Guide to the Blogosphere for Marketers & Company Stakeholders".

It's a good guide for companies who are struggling to understand the blogging phenomenon. My advice: Read the paper, and learn from the many mistakes companies have made by trying to cash in on blogging, or trying to control something they did not understand. Read the statistics on bloggers. Many are extremely intelligent, well educated, tech-savvy, and long-term Internet veterans. The ones you want to approach are not the cranks and fanatics who like to rant. That's the first reality check. Next, read the section on "Blogs Gone Wrong".

My advice for any company looking to leverage the blogosphere: Lurk and learn before you do. Understand the individual blog sites and bloggers' perspectives and passions. Don't market to them -- engage them. Don't approach blogs as quick hit marketing stunts, but as a longer term strategy and investment.

Transparency, trustworthiness, and integrity are king. Anonymous and "shill" blogs are dangerous -- it's only a matter of time before you are found out. Reputation damage is more costly to recover from than most realize. Consider the following guidelines I've put together:

  1. Be yourself. If you forget or ignore all else mentioned here, be genuine. Integrity is everything in the blogosphere. Always take the high road, and you won't have anything to worry about -- no damage control, no back-peddling press releases, public apologies, rebates, etc. Bloggers can sniff out phoneys in a heartbeat.
  2. Engage bloggers as you would a valued business partner. While bloggers tend to be quite generous in helping others, don't engage them with a "something for nothing" approach. It's a huge turn-off. If you're going to benefit from visibility from a mention on someone else's blog, be prepared to contribute something of value in return. Make it worth their time.
  3. Many established bloggers greatly dislike the "reciprocal links" type of request. We have been inundated with them. We're already highly visible and highly placed on Google. Obviously, that's far more valuable to the link requestor than the established blogger. So what's so reciprocal about it?
  4. Consider what will make it worth the blogger's time and credibility risk by endorsing you with a mention. Can you pique their interest with something novel or useful, or provide them with a truly free sample of your product or service? Bloggers love freebies, and they'll likely disclose that fact to maintain their transparency and credibility. Don't be stingy -- the one demo unit you give up will likely pay for itself many times over in ways you couldn't have paid traditional marketing channels a handsome amount to accomplish. If the bloggers like the product or service, chances are they will continue to blog about it, other bloggers will pick up on the posts and blog about it, and the circle of exposure widens exponentially. If you require that they return the unit, you've greatly reduced your exposure by orders of magnitude. If it's really the better mousetrap, giving it up it will sell itself many times over.
  5. Take the time to read and understand the blogger's perspective you'd like to approach. It's easy to offend someone when you don't know who they are, what they do, and their passions.
  6. Bloggers love being part of the "in" crowd, being "in the know" before others. Find reputable and influential bloggers and make them one of the team. Make it a strategic alliance.
Naturally, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. Avoid the "get rich quick" approach, and you just might receive more than you anticipated.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
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April 07, 2005

Better Text Messaging & A New Legal Tech Blog

Here's a great follow up tip to my recent post, "Doing E-Mail on Your Cell Phone":

Teleflip solves the problem of having to know all the different domain names for each wireless carrier's service. Regardless of which carrier your intended recipient is using, just send a text message or e-mail to the person's 10-digit phone number at teleflip.com, like this: 8005551234@teleflip.com Teleflip figures out who's on which service, and it gets there in a few seconds like magic. No registration required -- just send the message per above.

Per the site: "TeleflipTM started when the founder became increasingly frustrated at his inability to send text messages to friends' cell phones from his PC. It was of course possible, but you had to know the cell phone provider, the correct domain name and the correct syntax for the email address. There had to be an easier way....TeleflipTM was born."

The catches? Teleflip is a free service, but it adds "---- www.teleflip.com" to the end of messages as a form of advertising. Other free services such as Yahoo! Mail do something similar, just as a point of comparison. Per the site, Teleflip only works in "North America (Canada, US, Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam)", but they are working on adding more countries.

As a precaution, since you're sending your messages through their service, you may also want to check out Teleflip's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Many thanks to Barry Bayer for e-mailing me the Teleflip tip. Barry has been writing about legal technology for a long time in his "Law Office Technology Review" columns. He just started a new blog, the "Law Tech Review".

By the way, here's a very good example for new bloggers, regarding how to contact another blogger. Barry had seen my post about text messaging, and had come across a great alternative solution. He e-mailed me, asking if I'd tried Teleflip. He didn't even mention his blog, at least not overtly. It wasn't until I spotted his blog's address in his e-mail sig line that I got curious and headed over. Less is definitely more. Welcome to the Blawgosphere, Barry.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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April 06, 2005


After an exhausting 5 days, I'm back from TECHSHOW with a head full of ideas. Here's my list of things that are hot, hot, hot, without appearing to be the latest tech fads:

  1. E-Discovery: As we continue to create more electronic data than paper, it's only going to heat up more, not less. I wasn't at LegalTech NY this year, but have heard that of the full three floors of vendors, half of them were litigation-related. The TECHSHOW exhibit hall certainly had its fair share. With the reform of the federal rules underway, many are glued to new developments and cases. Use caution and look carefully when selecting between the host of EDD service providers. Some are not expected to survive on their own for relatively long. The shakeout continues.

    My advice: Do your homework, give one or two of them a test case, and if they do well, give them a few more and a few more until you're comfortable with their services and results. Then add them to your PPL (Preferred Provider List -- you do have one, right?). Do that for each type of provider, and you will have created a "Best of the Best" list for your organization -- a valued added "go to" list of vetted providers.

  2. Blogs: The number of blawgers has already grown incredibly from last year. I met many more at the blogger dinner, BlawgConnect 2005, than last year. Blawgers tend to be forward-thinking and progressive, and there is a great deal of affinity between us on this trait alone. Blawgers are early adopters, not just of technology, but of new ideas. At LexThink! Chicago, many of us discussed various topics that effectively began, "There has to be a better way to..."
  3. RSS Feeds: Many have compared RSS news feeds to the "push" technology of yesteryear, PointCast. PointCast ultimately proved to be a tech fad, but many bloggers do not believe that RSS is going away any time soon. I'm already seeing how RSS is knitting the fabric of the Internet together. Blogs, news, and web sites are being intertwined, seamlessly. Boundaries are heavily blurred. Like many technologies, there is potential for abuse, and some blog owners have become rightfully concerned that their content is being "lifted" or "scraped" for other commercial endeavors, with no compensation back to the source.

    Regardless, all of the power, hype, and controversy is feeding the fire. It's like cable and satellite TV for "informational omnivores*" -- millions of channels, but with something on. There are many more consumers of news feeds than content creators, and that's okay. I personally do not think RSS-like technologies (RSS, RDF, XML, Atom, etc.) are a fad. They will probably morph or be subsumed into something else, but the building blocks are there. Right now, we've built the foundation -- the basement -- and it's too soon to tell just what the finished construct will look like. I believe it will continue to evolve, with many varied applications barely a glimmer in our eyes. Just like the dot.com boom in the late 90's, many are searching for new business models upon which commercial ventures can become sustainable using various forms and applications of this technology and content. Blawgers are beginning to join together and aggregate their own content -- some as a preemptive defense mechanism from the perceived threat from other content-raiding systems and services.

    [*Sabrina Pacifici used this term during her blog presentation, and of all the blawgers I know, she's one of the hungriest processors of information I know. Incidentally, it was her and Tom Mighell's joint TECHSHOW 2003 presentation on blogging that got me started. During that presentation, a 100,000 watt light bulb lit up in my head, and you've been reading the result ever since.]

  4. Attorney Learning Curves Remain Diverse: Perhaps I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was to see this, but there is still a great divide between tech savvy attorneys that "get it" and use it, and those who have apparently gotten by with the minimum tech expertise. At least those further down the learning curve are taking the right steps to get up the hill. They're hungrier for the knowledge than ever before. They're attending TECHSHOW, soaking it up, and getting outside help on occasion. Even if they don't understand the underlying technology, they understand what it can do for them -- and that's a great start.

    As one person put it, it's good to see what many of us already take for granted in our daily professional and personal lives. More and more are using wireless laptops, home broadband, BlackBerries, and various Internet services and sites. Some are even finding and reading blogs. Overall, I'm encouraged by the progress, but as a whole the profession still has a long, long way to go. I'm also encouraged by the ever-growing number of tech savvy professionals I encounter. Best practices are mentioned more often than ever before. Many professionals are striving to improve their efficiency and level of client service and communication through the savvy application of technology, process redesign, and training. Communication and awareness of these issues has risen dramatically, both in traditional publications and disruptive forums such as blogs.

  5. Strategic Outsourcing is Gaining Traction: ASPs (Application Service Providers) boomed during the late 90's until the dot.com bubble burst. During the recession, many firms and companies stayed the course or cut budgets. Now that we're in a period of growth, legal and other organizations are hungry for improvements in their tech resources, but the hunger is outpacing their budgets and IT staff resources. Enter the hosted solution. As long as it meets the security and confidentiality requirements, IT departments like ASPs because it's a quicker way to gain the benefits on a pay-as-you-go basis, with little or no up front investment. The real trick is to determine what falls within your organization's core competence, to keep in-house, and those that are better served by outsourced providers.

    The other real trick, as I see it, is whether you need that data integrated with your other systems. If you do, then you'll need a plan to knit it all together -- otherwise, you've just stranded some mission critical data in yet another silo. While I don't believe ASP solutions are a fad, I believe they will continue to be somewhat cyclical. There are many other forms of outsourcing besides ASPs, and I believe the legal profession will continue to warm up to them as long as the services solve major pain points with the overall value exceeding their cost.

All in all, it was a great week, and as you can tell, my head is exploding with ideas. I look at these conferences as my professional retreat -- and each time I come back refreshed and re-energized, ready to take on the world (or at least complacency of the status quo).

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
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April 01, 2005

Doing E-Mail on Your Cell Phone

Don't have a BlackBerry or Treo, but just a regular cell phone? Want to do mobile e-mail on the cheap? Try this and see if it works with your particular phone and cell provider:

Send an e-mail from your e-mail program to your SMS text messaging-enabled phone:

1) Go to "How To Address A Message To Other Wireless Devices", and bookmark it.
2) Scroll halfway down to the listing of wireless carriers. Note the e-mail address format for the desired carrier.
3) Go into your e-mail program, and address and send a message to your cell phone. (E.g., 8005555555@vtext.com for Verizon Wireless, substituting your 10-digit phone number.)

Once you receive it, reply to it on your phone.

So, what just happened? E-mail services talked to SMS text messaging services, and vice versa. In essence, your message went through an SMS-to-e-mail gateway. So folks can e-mail your cell phone using their regular e-mail program, and you can reply back. This is great if they don't have text messaging enabled on their phone, don't have a cell phone, don't know how to text message, or don't know the URL for your carrier's web-based "Send text message" feature.

The catch? Yes, there are several that come to mind:

  • SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, including the To: and Subject: fields. Longer e-mail messages get truncated.

  • The sender needs to know which wireless carrier you're using for the domain name portion of your phone's e-mail address (see the list linked above).

  • Attachments may get stripped.

  • Number portability: If you change carriers but keep your prior number, your e-mail domain name probably changed, so you'll need to alert others to update their e-mail address book. While your cell phone number stays the same, its e-mail address changes.
Apply KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) and you may find this works well enough. It can work with family members, and between office staff and mobile professionals. It's no substitute for a full mobile e-mail solution, but for occasional and simple needs, it's yet another enabling technology in your mobile tool kit. It's also easy to teach nearly anyone within a few moments.

On some phones, you can save e-mail addresses. So you can be the originator and send them e-mail directly from your phone. By the way, if your phone has some type of predictive text entry option, such as T9 or iTap, try using it. It saves a ton of time because you only have to press each phone key once per letter. There are a few tricks to using predictive text entry, and so it's worth perusing your phone's manual.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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