Time for Lawyers to Face the Truth about Our Phones

We are all addicted to them. They don’t work for us; we work for them.

This month, Apple is releasing its newest phone, the iPhone X, which you can now purchase for a mere $1,000. (Well, okay, $999). The iPhone X hosts numerous features including “facial recognition” that will unlock the phone for its user.

That’s right, if you drop a grand on an iPhone X, your phone will actually recognize your face every time you stare at it, and if someone steals your phone or just borrows it and tries to use it, your iPhone X will scream, “Put me down, you thief!” and will then quickly call the police.

Like every lawyer in America, I am the owner (or more accurately, the slave) of a smarter-than-I-am phone. But I think it’s time that we lawyers do a little facial recognition on our part. Specifically, we need to face the truth and recognize that we’ve all become addicted to our phones, and they are taking over our profession and the entire world.

I remember when a phone was not something you could take to court. You could not carry it around in your pocket or your briefcase. You couldn’t even carry it at all, since it was attached to a wall in your home or office and weighed about 50 pounds. If you tried to carry it just a few feet, you could end up getting a hernia.

When I was a kid, telephones were large black objects that resembled a bowling ball with ears. They did not have screens, but rather they had little circular dials that you would stick your index finger in and spin like a tiny roulette wheel in order to call a friend.

All you could do with that big old bowling ball with ears was to talk to someone, and you couldn’t even always do that. Most phones were “party lines,” and by that I don’t mean you had a party on it. Rather, you shared the line with several of your neighbors. This meant you could never have a private conversation with anyone, since a neighbor could always be listening in. Moreover, you couldn’t even make a call if one of your neighbors was yacking away on the party line.

You could also not use your phone as a camera, a book, a photo album, a mailbox, a calendar, an alarm clock, a library, a radio or a stereo. You could not use your phone to shop or access your bank account. And the really great thing about it was that you could not look at it while you were driving your car!

All you could do was talk on it, unless that busy-body neighbor of yours was already on the line gossiping about you.

But now more than 300 million Americans and their lawyers have phones that enable us to talk, listen, shop, read the news, get the weather forecast, research, send letters, receive letters, take notes and order dinner to be delivered to our homes or offices.

It sounds wonderful, but there is a problem. The smarter-than-we-are phones have taken over our lives. We are all addicted to them. They don’t work for us; we work for them.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look around the courtroom the next time you are in a trial or a hearing. Or take a look at the conference room the next time you are in a meeting or a deposition. You will notice that almost everyone (including yourself) is staring at their phone. We are all checking the latest news or sending or receiving messages, checking on the weather forecast, or actually working in our virtual office.

In jury trials, the judges tell the jurors that they are not allowed to use their phones while they are in the jury box.  But everyone else in the courtroom, often including the judge, is looking at their phones constantly. 

And outside of courthouses and law offices it is just as bad, if not worse.

A few months ago, my wife and I took a vacation to New York and spent a small fortune to get orchestra seats for a Broadway show. The tickets didn’t cost as much as the new iPhone X, but darn close.

Before the show started, virtually everyone in the theater was staring at their phones. This was bad enough, but when the house lights dimmed, many of the phones did not. As the show started, the lady in front of us kept sending and receiving messages on her phone. She was no doubt texting all her friends, “I’m at a big Broadway show!”

I was so irritated that I sent the lady a text myself. Well, I didn’t send her a text since I didn’t have her number. Instead I reverted to an old-fashioned form of communication. I tapped her on the shoulder, and when she turned around, I said, “Turn that cotton pickin’ thing off!” She did, but she seemed offended by my request.

I’ve actually noticed folks at my church during Sunday morning worship services who are texting on their phones. I often wondered who they are texting. God?

I don’t know His email address, but I would think that quiet prayer would be the best way to send Him a message. I seriously doubt He has an iPhone.

And so, I have no intention of shelling out a thousand bucks for an iPhone X, although I suspect millions of people will.

If you’re one of those people, more e-power to you.  But I do have a suggestion. Turn your phone off from time to time, and let all of us enjoy a little peace and quiet, particularly in church.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.

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