Denver Bar Association
October 2001
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That High-Tech Touch

by Stephen J. Harhai


How sweet it is when luddites and gearheads rule the world.

I often say that people can be roughly divided into luddites and gearheads. Luddites find technology inherently unfriendly and avoid or sabotage it at every opportunity. Gearheads get a kick out of the mind-expanding power of computer tools and will spend an hour to automate a 10-minute task. Three guesses which camp I’m in—and the first two don’t count.

But I take issue with those who characterize those of us in the gearhead camp as less interested in personal relationships. In fact, technology can help people keep in touch, exchange ideas and deepen relationships. I routinely zip e-mails to friends around town and around the country without regard to geography or time zone in ways that I didn’t when the phone was the only medium.

Technology is also a connection to art. My wife Kathy and I were talking about bands of the ’60s and ’70s and remembered the Ventures and the Astronauts. Within a minute we were listening to "Telstar" and "Pipeline," and sharing memories about the time and its music. It was a fun and special time. We don’t live next door to a record store, but we had a jukebox with every song ever recorded in Napster. The legal yada yada has apparently killed Napster (although KaZaA is alive and well), but it has given us a glimpse of technology that could hook us into art with an immediacy that we have never had before. That is something of great value that needs to exist.

Those ’60s bands took me to the late Steve Goodman and his funny, poignant lyrics. I quickly found one of my favorites, "The Dutchman." I love the song, but never could catch all the lyrics. A Web search turned up, the Web site of Irish balladeer Tommy Makem and the Makem brothers, who had also recorded the song and happily placed the lyrics on their Web site.

    Let us go to the banks of the ocean
    Where the walls rise above the Zider Zee
    Long ago, I used to be a young man
    And dear Margaret remembers that for me

I can’t listen to "The Dutchman" without thinking of my college friend Margaret, known to her friends as Peggy. Peggy and I shared a war, a revolution, some amazing road trips and a transforming experience with Charles Gary when he was representing the Chicago Seven. We’d fallen out of touch for a couple of decades, probably my fault. ("When a woman says she’ll call you, she means by the end of the day. When a man says he’ll call you, he means before he dies." —Rob Becker).

I really would like to find the continuation of that thread in my life. On an impulse, I sent a friendly bot assistant to scour the Internet for signs of her. In moments, I found an e-mail address that might connect us again after 20 years. I dropped an electronic bottle in the ether ocean to see if it would find her. Within minutes, we were reconnected, sharing experiences of children, work and cosmic connection. I’m going to follow in Internet time—a single decade at the outside.

How sweet it is when luddites and gearheads rule the world.

That’s the high-touch part of technology. An invisible web that connects us across space and time. We can travel around the globe and back in time through this electronic nervous system of the planet. Find old friends, make new ones. Connect with people who share our passions; publish our insights to the world. Get the music you love when inspiration strikes. Freedom of the press was available to those who owned the presses. Now, anyone can command an unlimited audience if the power of our ideas is sufficiently compelling—a power the American Revolution pamphleteers couldn’t imagine.

Steve Harhai in his Denver office
with his four-monitor desktop

One of my favorite high touch technologies is the DivorceLaw listserv (e-mail to join.) It occurred to me a couple of years ago that the wonderful support network among Colorado divorce lawyers could work better with a judicious application of technology to bind our community a little closer together. We found some shareware on the Web, lashed it up to our high speed Internet connection, scrounged some e-mail addresses and voilá—a lot of us could share our questions and knowledge through an infinite bulletin board always a click away in cyberspace. The word spread quickly and today our little online legal community has grown to over 300 and spreads the word on interesting thinking in our field every day.

And the finishing touch? A lot of us have been sending electrons back and forth for years, but have never met each other in the corporeal world. So we organized the first DivorceLaw party to hoist a few and cement the friendships we started in the ether. It was kind of a cross between "Cheers" and "Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon." High tech coming back around to high touch—a "Circle Game" kind of thing. Bye now; got to jump online and get some Joni Mitchell tunes.

Steve Harhai is a Denver family law attorney and "gearhead" at his firm by the same name.

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