Sunday, 21 June 2009

Technology Reliance: A graduates' panacea or problem?

I have been largely absent from the blawgosphere for some little while now; I have vaguely kept an eye on the happenings, but have been largely pre-occupied with essays, dissertation disasters and the drawn out process of waiting on HellGate to reveal my future. However, determined not to be one of the many bloggers who starts off keen but quickly lapses into obscurity, I have been mulling over my next post for some time and waiting to have enough freedom to write once again!

I want to explore a topic close to my heart – the use of technology it learning and beyond. I apologise in advance therefore for the likely length of the post, and humbly hope a few of those kind enough to grace this page make it to the end!

I am, I must profess, somewhat of an IT lover. I need a small nuclear reactor charge and power the myriad items I carry round with me at any one time, but feel that I am largely mobile as a consequence. I try to largely keep abreast of changes in technology that I feel can benefit my ability to work and communicate. Having been born into a family where one parent was in the IT industry, and been fortunate enough to have the benefit learning environments in which IT featured heavily, I have a certain knack with gadgets and gizmos – as well as a slightly geeky love of all things tangibly shiny.

I have however found both positive and negative aspects to this affinity for modern wonders however.

The positive:

My affinity with technology does, as I have alluded, give me great benefits in terms of mobility and communications. The use of a netbook has proved invaluable in the last few weeks given my need to travel for work experience and finalising accommodation for the upcoming academic year, and will likely prove more so as the dissertation beast battles with my social and professional requirements over the coming months. An online calendar synchronised with my phone has allowed me to keep on top of the millions of obligations dropped into my path on an almost daily basis. Truly, I am a child of the 21st Century! As I write, I am scratching away on my Quill, without which I would be incommunicado.

I have also found it invaluable when undertaking academic work. I have previously winged about the lack of resources and tough competition for that which is available. However, the internet and my knack for finding free copies of texts has saved the day on many an occasion. My work experience has too been eased by utilising the many resources of the web. Given 2 foot stack of tasks on one placement, I was able to quickly despatch them and provide typed summaries of my research, complete with links to the original sources in relatively little time. The Head Solicitor seemed amazed that this was possible, and even asked how I had done it and if I could provide whatever notes my university had provided me with! I wasn't sure exactly how to tell the candid truth: “well, I just googled most of it” seemed inadequate. In terms of legal resources, I rely heavily on WestLaw and similar legal databases for my research,

My work on (the previously grumbled about) Project X has largely centred around a piece of extremely shiny legal software which I have personally found useful and can see great value in. Whilst time consuming to use, it is nonetheless fantastic. I have also worked on a local pro bono project (I shall name Project Public), and felt that the efficiency could be massively improved by simple steps such as online collaborative workspaces. The increasing prominence of online technologies such as Cloud storage facilities, googledocs or even Office 2007's built in version would work well in this situation and save considerable wasted time and overlapping research if only I could convince The Powers That Be to give me 5 minutes to explain!

The negative:

Not all however is bathed in the neon glow of wonder that surrounds technology. I have, on occasion found my own over-reliance on it a hindrance.

Firstly, my ability with online resources has meant that my skills have developed to the detriment of being able to used paper based resources. I doubt in all honest that I could really research thoroughly without the internet any more, and have no idea how I would tackle a new area of law without legal databases and search functions. Can I function in a set without access to this? Have I shot myself in the foot by using so heavily what is in reality a luxury? Really, rather than mild interest, this point is in fact of great concern to me. I truly worry about how I much time it ill take me to adapt sufficiently to work well if I am in a set without access to this kind of resource.

Secondly, I know that my ability with technology is above average. This is not said out of any sense of arrogance, but merely because I know that I use it much more than many of my contemporaries and have many useful little tricks I have picked up over the years (who have said as much) and sometimes ask me for help (which I happy to give if I can). I have therefore occasionally found it frustrating to operate in a situation where I feel that a little technological application could go a long way to improving efficiency (such as Project Public). Worse, sometimes the use of software has actually hampered group progress where it proves unusable by many; this was particularly true of Project X, and without it perhaps more could have been achieved.

Panacea of Problem?

Really, the heart of this post is my own internal tug-of-war. On the one hand, I find resources such as the internet and the ability to search invaluable. I am more mobile, more efficient and work much better with technology at my fingers. On the other, I worry about those situations where I do have the level of access I am used to. I also struggle to appreciate on occasion that not everyone works best under the same conditions as myself, and that sometimes I need to sacrifice the shiny for the traditional for the sake of group efficiency.

Finally, I worry whether I have given myself a heavy over reliance on something that I cannot guarantee I will continue to have access to.

As a graduate heavily reliant upon technology, will I find that it is a panacea in the working world much as it has been in my academic one, or really a problem that leaves me blundering in the dark?

1 comment:

  1. Long post, but I can totally understand where you are coming from with this.For me there is the inability to function without the simplicity of a google search, but at the same time, the "old fashioned way" still achieves results.

    I relied very heavily on the internet during my degree, but a lot less on the LPC and I have found myself reaching what I consider a nice balance even if I do use google for simple things - although that is simply to save time.

    With regards legal research I think it is definitely important to have a balance of online/offline skills. I have yet to reach the real world and cannot speak for your own experiences, but it was my experience on the LPC that sometimes hard copy is better and it is a skill to know when. Information that took 2 hours to find using online resources took a mere 5 minutes in using hard copies - using an index and reading the corresponding paragraph. So I think it is fair to say - finding a balance is key.