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Wired Lawyers Are Example of Changing Workplace: We Communicate, But We Don’t Converse

Posted Apr 24, 2012 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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There’s a new bubble that doesn’t involve the costs of law school or high law firm billing rates.

It’s the bubble we all live in when we communicate electronically, according to psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle. In-person conversations are falling by the wayside, as people tied to their electronic devices have learned to be “alone together,” she says in an op-ed for the New York Times. People who communicate by texting or email can edit or delete to present themselves as the people they want to be, avoiding the messiness of real relationships, she says.

“We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship,” she writes.

The change is affecting the workplace, where people don’t talk in person. A senior partner at a Boston law firm told her about a typical scene in his office. Associates lay out their laptops, iPods and multiple phones, and put on their earphones. “Big ones. Like pilots,” the partner said. “They turn their desks into cockpits.” The office is quiet, Turkle writes, “a quiet that does not ask to be broken.”

Turkle calls for digital-free zones at home and a possible change at work. “Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays,” she says.

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