Keep it Personal

By Nils Peter Johnson
Johnson & Johnson Law Firm

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Our brains are shrinking. They are now approximately 10% smaller than they were approximately 300,000 years ago.  As reported Sept. 8 in the Wall Street Journal (“Our Big Brains Have Shrunk.  Scientists Might Know Why,” by Aylin Woodward), a compelling theory as to why has to do with what researchers call collective intelligence.

Individually, our brains simply do not need to work as hard to retain information about where food is located, or where predators might lurk, if such information has been dispersed widely and is readily available through our social structures. Organized societies are the primal examples of such information dissemination. Smartphones and ubiquitous internet access bring this concept to a new level.

But simply querying our smartphones for the desired information lacks the broader societal benefits arising out of two individuals personally conversing about the subject matter. Electronic requests for information do nothing to strengthen our communities. Whatever gains in efficiency we might reap from making the digital query, we lose opportunities to practice professionalism and civility with another person.

We no longer make eye contact, rarely shake hands, and most certainly never share cheeky jokes. In fact, making eye contact is now affirmatively taught in trial advocacy curricula in law schools across Ohio.  

To consider the extent technology will pervade society another 300,000 years from now – and the degree to which our brains will have further shrunk by then – should give both new and seasoned professionals pause.  It simply seems inevitable. Though no amount of digitization can replace the true value our analog traditions have in maintaining strong communities, we may nevertheless email them out of existence if we do not proactively strive to make such personal touches as often as possible.  We must recognize the value our personal exchanges have in maintaining the foundation of our networks and refuse to sacrifice them in pursuing efficiency. 

Remember to engage personally, not just digitally, with your professional community whenever possible.  Young people particularly, as the standard-bearers for advancements in technology, are uniquely situated to change the perception about how these tools are best deployed.

Pick up the telephone.  Do not be afraid to express a preference for an in-person meeting under the auspices of giving an opportunity to discuss a particular matter face-to-face. Invite opposing counsel to lunch. Personally pose a question to another professional who you might just as easily have posed to your web browser.  Then snail-mail him/her a thank you card. Similarly, try to be flattered (and not confused, or offended) if such a seemingly simple question is posed to you. 

Perhaps most importantly: work on soft skills. Smile once in a while. A genuine one might change someone’s day (week, month) for the better, and serve as the foundation for a future relationship essential to the success of your business, and by extension, your broader community.  Emojis will never have that same effect.  

Author’s Note: Many of the themes articulated herein arose in actual conversations the author had with members of his professional network, which recently expanded as a direct result of his motivation for writing the article. This note is made solely to emphasize the author’s attempts to practice what he preaches, and to inspire others to do the same.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.