That’s my psychiatrist. I was in his office a few weeks ago for my quarterly med check. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a frustrating process, much like trying to tune Django Reinhadrt’s guitar while he’s playing. I guess the frustration was visible on my face prompting this comment. If not the look on my face, then the fact that I promptly burst into tears when it said it. But then I realized that I was being exactly like Chief Justice Roberts and his pneumatic tubes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Chief Justice Roberts’ 2014 Annual Report concentrated on technology, specifically PACER and the upcoming US Supreme Court electronic case system. He started and ended with a cute anecdote about the pneumatic tube system that the court used to deliver decisions to the reporter pool. Nowhere does he use the phrases “totally inadequate”, “criminally useless” or “national embarrassment”, so obviously I took issue with his report.
The first problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize that the court is still effectively using pneumatic tubes. Just faster ones. Because really, an emailed or otherwise digitally distributed PDF of a court decision is not that functionally different than a printed copy sent through a tube. This is why, when discussing information, I harp so much on the content/container/conveyance definitions and descriptors. All pneumatic tubes and PACER do is handle the conveyance of information. They do nothing to add the myriad enhancements that are now possible, enhancements that allow for tools and analyses we never knew we needed.
Obviously this is more on the geeky knowledge side of things that I don’t really expect the Chief to be able to know off the top of his head. After all, I still don’t get the Well Pleaded Complaint rule. We all have our areas of expertise, is what I’m trying to say. But I hope to heck that the people hired to create the new electronic case management system do and create as system that is more than a PDF warehouse.
So anyway, back to the tubes, and a more subtle, philosophical difference I have with The Chief. The court was slow to adopt the use of pneumatic tubes and didn’t abandon them until 1971. Honestly? I always just assumed that the communication system of the court between judges and the staff was some sort of Terry Gilliam-esque steampunk nightmare, so I’m actually impressed it’s been 40 years since they stopped using pneumatic tubes. But ignoring the “justice delayed is justice denied” maxim, it’s a good thing courts are slow, he says.
Federal judges are stewards of a judicial system that has served the
Nation effectively for more than two centuries. Like other centuries-old
institutions, courts may have practices that seem archaic and inefficient—
and some are. But others rest on traditions that embody intangible wisdom.
Judges and court executives are understandably circumspect in introducing
change to a court system that works well until they are satisfied that they are
introducing change for the good.
As technology proceeds apace, we cannot be sure what changes are in
store, for the courts or society generally. Innovations will come and go, but
the judiciary will continue to make steady progress in employing new
technology to provide litigants with fair and efficient access to the courts.
Statements like this and my other life experiences have led me to realize that there are two types of people in the world: Those that view technology as a tool, a weapon, a magic bullet, something to fix problems. And, on the other side, those that view technology as an element of life itself and its incorporation is both a given and constantly moving target. Technology as a tool or technology as part of an ever changing process. The Chief, in waiting for the right court system seems to be part of the former group.
I can understand. I was doing the same thing with my anti-depressants. It’s scary to realize that you’ll never be “done.” That you can never settle in and stop worrying about changes. That you’ll have to be constantly vigilant and look for improvements or changes. It sucks. I know. I would give anything for all interfaces to stay the same forever and ever! But those days are gone and not coming back.
The perfect technology is a moving target that we’ll never hit.