20 years can change your life or how the internet revolution has upset my physical and mental wellbeing
July 1997. A pleasant breakfast and say goodbye to my baby daughter. Catch the Central Line for the short trip from Lancaster Gate to Chancery Lane. Read a bit of novel (probably The God of Small Things) on the way in, buy a carton of milk, and make a cup of Nescafe for me and my roommates on my arrival in Chambers. Pop into the clerks’ room to have a chat with them, look at the massive leather-bound diary to see if I have been instructed on anything new (and take a peek at what others are doing). Check pigeon-hole to see if any papers have arrived by post or DX. Might even find a “fax” on the tell-tale yellow paper in my pigeon-hole or some notes from reception about people who want me to call them back. Later, have a mid-morning croissant with some junior tenants in Chez Gerard on Chancery Lane. On a rare occasion a clerk might come to find us there. Go to Middle Temple library for some research on an opinion which I have promised to send to clients in about 2 weeks. Have a nice chat in the library with a friend from Bar School. My ex-pupil master takes me to the Casella off Fleet Street for some pasta. I chat to a college friend who is an articled clerk at Freshfields. She shows me a massive portable phone and we have a laugh at how silly it looks. Back to chambers to finish the opinion. Print it on the chambers printer and clerks post it. Then chips and beer at Chez Gerard at 5.30pm.
July 2017. A bit of light outside but it’s only 4.30am. Can’t possibly get up but I can see a red light blinking on the phone which is charging in my bedroom. Dread starts to build up. Is this an urgent email from a solicitor which I need to read right now? How many emails are there? Is it just spam? Is it from a friend? I try to go back to sleep but I can’t. Get up and see it is an email from a BVI firm I am working with and they want me to open and look at a long PDF and get back to them immediately with an answer. I try to do the work required but the broadband at home is a bit slow despite the early hour. Must be because my once baby daughter (now 20) is part way through her night of streaming back to back episodes of Season 315 of Game of the Crown on Netflix. Can’t sleep so leave for chambers fuelled by a Nespresso capsule. On the way to the station, I receive further emails from solicitors, juniors and the clerks (and a few from my friends). I download these using the excellent tube station platform Wi-Fi. Still a short journey but most passengers on the tube, like me, are staring at their phones (the lucky ones however seem to be playing a game involving fruits and a few are reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness on their Kindles, but not me). Continue reading from my phone while I buy a soya cappuccino from one of the 35 Prets on my walk from Chancery Lane to Chambers. I am not alone. The vast majority of us in the Pret queue stare down at our phones for the duration (after having logged onto the excellent Pret WiFi).
Once in Chambers, I don’t see the clerks or bother to check for any papers. The only thing that seems to come by post these days is Counsel magazine and an odd publication called The Barrister (but which should be called The Advertiser). I don’t need to speak to anyone. My diary is on my phone and any messages would have arrived on my phone. I get to my desk and log onto my machine. A few hours of Lawtel and Westlaw online research. My roommate is a delightful and friendly chap. He can’t speak to me. He has been on his PC all night apart from a brief nap on our sofa. I think he saw his kids about 36 hours ago. We often do not exchange a word during the day (he might however sometimes kindly ask me if I want something from Pret before he returns to keyboard bashing). Walked past the Casella recently. Still serving penne arrabiata but to people looking at their phones and not at one another.
7pm- make sure phone is charged and head back to tube to get home. Log on to remote access network at 9pm because another PDF has arrived. Plug in the phone for charging overnight and try to sleep.
An Answer? I can’t say that it has been wholly successful, but one solution is to get two phones. One for fun and one for work. Work phone strictly off at 8pm and not switched on until 8am. The ‘fun’ phone can be on generally for family and friends to contact. The dread that I am missing important emails on my work phone and must switch it on has not however been removed. I do however have to make more of an effort to rid myself of this dread. It is machine-created, did not exist in 1997 and it is absurd that I cannot shake it off.
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Pushpinder Saini Q.C is a Silk at Blackstone Chambers. He is a Bencher of Gray’s Inn and Deputy High Court Judge. Pushpinder’s areas of practice include commercial law, public law/human rights and media and entertainment law. He is a member of the Bar Council’s Wellbeing at the Bar Committee. Pushpinder has a particular interest in encouraging members of the Bar, particularly those starting in practice, to discuss wellbeing issues. His major concern, after over 25 years in practice, is getting fellow barristers to accept that saying that one is feeling stress because of the demands of life, practice and litigation, does not mean you are “not up to the job”. That is best achieved by the senior Bar being open and honest.