Newell on Redefining Attention

Lauren Newell (Ohio Northern) has published “Redefining Attention (and Revamping the Legal Profession?) for the Digital Generation” on SSRN. The abstract:

With computers, text messages, Facebook, cell phones, smartphones, tablets, iPods, and other information and communication technologies (“ICTs”) constantly competing for our attention, we live in an age of perpetual distraction. Educators have long speculated that constant exposure to ICTs is eroding our ability to stay focused, and recent research supports these speculations. This raises particularly troubling implications for the practice of law, in which being able to pay sustained attention to the task at hand is crucial.

Research also indicates that the brains of today’s young people, the “Digital Generation,” may function differently than the brains of their elders because the Digital Generation have grown up immersed in digital technology. This suggests that the techniques today’s legal professionals might use to cultivate attention in the face of technological distraction could prove to be inappropriate for future generations of lawyers. When the Digital Generation are both the attorneys and the clients, it may be the practice of law — rather than the lawyers — that needs to change.

This paper explores the science of attention and explains why attention is important. Next, it introduces the Digital Generation and their relationship with digital technology. It then examines the connection between ICT exposure and attention and reviews several suggestions that others have made about how legal professionals should respond to the challenges ICTs pose to focused attention. This paper then takes the conversation in a new direction: It predicts ways in which the legal profession, rather than the legal professionals, will necessarily have to adapt to technology in the future. Finally, it offers thoughts about how the legal profession should view its relationship with technology going forward.

One thought on “Newell on Redefining Attention”

  1. Newell’s article was struck a chord with me, one of the seemingly few members of the “Digital Generation” that does not view the omnipresence of ICT usage as primarily beneficial. Though Newell touched on the problems that ITCs pose in the courtroom, I think that ITCs, and the impact they’ve had on the Digital Generation’s interpersonal skills, pose a greater problem in understanding-based forms of ADR. To accomplish the relationship building that is a hallmark benefit of ADR, disputants must focus on the other party enough to genuinely understand their position. It is difficult to accomplish this interpersonal connection if you’re checking your phone every five minutes read a text message from someone else. I think Newell’s suggested strategy of shutting off ICTs is a legitimate concern that mediators and other ADR professionals should consider requiring of disputants. Though technology’s reach is much broader than just ability to pay attention long enough to formally resolve a dispute, it is good to see that Newell and others are raising awareness of the specific issues that may be addressed as the “Technology Generation” replaces its predecessors in the legal field.

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