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Persuading Twitterers, their opposites, and those in between

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Image from Library of Congress’s website.

A twenty-two year old recently pondered about how inconvenient life must have been before the days of Google. Ah, yes, the days before personal computers, DVDs and CDs, touch-tone phones, cassette tapes, eight-track tapes, widespread color television, widespread black and white television, and 45/33 RPM vinyl music albums. The days were wonderful before rampant drug testing even to play in the high school symphonic band, before metal detectors at schoolhouse entrances, and before the epidemic of unjust and overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes. We take the bitter with the sweet.

I reminded this twenty-two year old that Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet throughout my years of public school, college and law school. Frank Zappa long ago warned about the commercial slime oozing out from your TV sets. How many take heed of that sensible warning, now receiving custom-made commercial messages every time they accept cookies to log onto FaceBook, MySpace,YouTube, Amazon, and Twitter?

In 1984, Orwell wrote of the erosion of language, and the elimination and twisting of words, by a sinister government. Now, it happens every day with cellphone text messages (to the point that many people let their voiceboxes get full, in favor of texting), instant messaging, BlackBerries/IPods/Treos and online message boards. What ever happened to opening a book, and communicating with pen to paper?

The foregoing is the reality with which trial lawyers must persuade judges and juries, and communicate with their clients and witnesses. At the same time, there is a small minority of people who do not touch the Internet and do not even have email addresses, and an even smaller minority who refuse to learn.

Long before the Internet came about, yogi Baba Hari Dass went silent and communicated by a chalkboard hung around his neck. Such communication helped Baba-ji free himself from excessive verbal and written noise so he could focus on living the yoga life. This is very much the opposite of sending multiple daily text McMessages from a cellphone followed by McTwitter (limited to 140 characters, which is shorter than many limericks and haikus found in public toilet stalls) followed by FaceBook (which invites members to say what they’re doing at the moment, with many responses less interesting and inspiring than that the typer is contemplating one’s own bellybutton lint). If the Internet and cellphone lines get jammed in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area from the millions celebrating Obama’s inauguration, how many people will suffer from withdrawal symptoms?

The world in the past moved forward without computers, and can continue doing so if it had to happen again. Starting today, see what happens if you swear off text messaging, Twitter, MySpace, and FaceBook for one week. Jon Katz