Image by danielweiresq via Flickr
O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!
Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act V, Scene I
“There’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that’s what soma is.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 17
In “Got Twitter? What’s Your Influence Score“, Stephanie Rosenbloom of the New York Times paints a dismal future when she writes,
IMAGINE a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are. This number would help determine whether you receive a job, a hotel-room upgrade or free samples at the supermarket. If your influence score is low, you don’t get the promotion, the suite or the complimentary cookies.
This is not science fiction.
It’s happening to millions of social network users. If you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account, you are already being judged – or will be soon. Companies with names like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader are in the process of scoring millions, eventually billions, of people on their level of influence – or in the lingo, rating “influencers.” Yet the companies are not simply looking at the number of followers or friends you’ve amassed. Rather, they are beginning to measure influence in more nuanced ways, and posting their judgments – in the form of a score – online.
To some, it’s an inspiring tool – one that’s encouraging the democratization of influence. No longer must you be a celebrity, a politician or a media personality to be considered influential. Social scoring can also help build a personal brand. To critics, social scoring is a brave new technoworld, where your rating could help determine how well you are treated by everyone with whom you interact.
Is this all there is? Are we now all resigned to a social media caste system where our digital selves are to be rated, traded, bartered, exchanged and sold?
For many lawyers, both old and new, borrowed and blue, the siren song of social media and its chorus of empty promises and get-rich-quick-or-die-tryin’ American Idolatry is too much to resist. The heart is willing, but the bank account is weak. The rocky shoals do not portend any risks. There’s only smooth sailing ahead. Professionalism and Ethics—the Scylla and Charybdis of Lawyering—are best avoided altogether on this epic voyage.
I read Brave New World as a high school student in Grade 10 English class.
At the time, in the unbridled optimism of my youth, Huxley’s dystopia was fanciful science-fiction. Nothing more, Nothing less. While George Orwell’s classic, 1984 has permeated the collective psyche, contorted by many into a convenient metaphor for totalitarianism and class conflict, it was Huxley’s novel that somehow remained imprinted into my sub-conscious. Brave New World inhabited the dark recesses of my mind, waiting patiently, like a crow hovering over freshly killed prey, to feast on a developing cynicism, eventually calcified, when Life’s inevitable disappointments and illusory achievements cumulatively took their toll.
Eighteen years ago I became a lawyer. It was my high school history teacher, Mr. Evans, whom I fondly remember suggesting that I should consider becoming a journalist or a lawyer.I thank him for the inspiration, but today, I feel old. Not chronologically, just existentially old. As though all the years I have spent learning, listening, working, trying to become a better lawyer, and thus, a better human being, have sped by like a freight train—the days, the months, the years—clipping past like dilapidated railway cars, quickly fading into the distance.
What is the point of writing about the Law, practicing the Law, living and breathing the Law, when all that was noble in our profession has been compromised, commodified, compartmentalized? What is the point?
Of course, lawyers need and want clients. Clients need and want lawyers. It is a symbiotic relationship, but a relationship where the client’s needs always must come first. We all need and want to be respected by our peers. Few of us are independently wealthy. We pay our bills and taxes. We deserve to make a living. Yet, is everything fungible, even your ethics? Are you willing to do anything to get a high Klout or Peer Index score, amass Twitter followers and Facebook friends? All at the expense of your clients and your profession?
Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor. Proverbs 18:12
What is the point in exposing the hypocrites; the liars; the egregiously incompetent; the unintegrious? Have you even asked yourself these questions? Do you care, or are you surfeit with the soma of self-promotion and self-congratulation, masquerading as self-actualization?
Where are all the lawyers? Where are the next Scott Greenfields, the Brian Tannebaums, the Mark Bennetts to take up the fight against the banality of it all?
I leave you with a final thought from Huxley’s Brave New World:
“The Gods are just. No doubt. But their code of law is dictated, in the last resort, by the people who organize society; providence takes its cue from men.”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Ch. 17
UPDATE: Many thanks to George Wallace, partner in the Pasadena, California, law firm of Wallace, Brown & Schwartz and author of the excellent A Fool in the Forest Blog and Declarations and Exclusions Blog, for his comment and providing a link to a wonderful cartoon that visualizes the thesis from Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show business”: http://www.recombinantrecords.net/docs/2009-05-Amusing-Ourselves-to-Death.html