March 9, 2007


Wena Poon - San Francisco, California

I spent most of March 9 in a basement conference room taking an 8-hour continuing legal education class.  You have to take a certain number of credits per year to remain qualified as an attorney with the state bar.

The difference between going to college or grad school in the early 1990s and the early-21st century is that most classrooms now have wireless Internet access. That means everyone no longer has to play Solitaire on their laptops, they can be surfing the Web while the lecturer speaks. I cannot imagine going to university lectures in today's wireless classrooms. I would go mad. I have lectured at such classrooms before, and the students were all writing into their laptops. I knew they weren't listening to me. 

As a student, I would probably be busy checking my email account, chatting live with friends, reading the news, looking up movie showtimes. The problem is not that we have ADD. It is that the world expects us to multi-task and to divide up every spare minute of the day to accomplishing at least more than one thing at any one time. The fact that we cannot just sit and listen to a lecture for a few hours is indicative not so much of ADD as our enlarged productive capacity as a people in the Internet age.

During my 8-hour lecture, I completed flight and hotel reservations for an upcoming trip, helped a friend with his job search by reviewing his CV, edited some of my short stories, did some "real legal work" by accessing my law firm's remote desktop, and Wiki'd (yes, that is a verb that would not have existed during my grad school or college years) someone called Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

Florian HVD is my age, and at 33 he has already made his first feature film, which won the Oscar for best foreign film this year. This is not as impressive as the fact that his film, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), is so good that it needs no awards for endorsement. It stands alone as a monument of talent - writing, directing, acting. It was one of those films that is so well-written, with such a good story, that a writer in the audience would leave the cinema feeling pangs of envy. "I wish I wrote that! I could write that one story and never write anything else and I would be happy." (These feelings arise in me no more than once a year, on average.)

You would be forgiven for thinking that the film was based on some 20th-century, thick, fat novel, and directed by some grey-haired guy who has lived through a lot. I was surprised - although it does make sense at some fundamental level - that this beautiful, personal, passionate and well-conceived film was written by a 33-year-old.  Hurrah for thirtysomethings!  Perhaps you do produce your best work in your thirties (George Lucas. Matt Stone and Trey Parker.)

By the way, my continuing legal education class was about accounting.  I don't remember much of it.


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