It was the sentence I didn’t know I’d dread in 2020: ‘Your internet connection is unstable’. Not what I wanted to repeatedly see appear on my computer screen while I was watching court proceedings.
When it comes to technology, I’m whatever came before the Tyrannosaurus rex. Technology has become synonymous with words like ‘efficiency’. I associate it with phrases like ‘unexpected item in the baggage area’.
So, while I was reading the Civil Justice Council’s detailed report on remote hearings, published today, my pupils dilated at observations on the fatigue that many respondents, who mostly comprised lawyers, felt doing remote hearings.
Working in front of screens for long periods was inherently tiring. Some developed eye strain and headaches, especially for lengthy hearings. Sitting still for ages and lack of natural light made them feel tired. Respondents had to concentrate harder for video hearings. ‘The intensity of being on video meant it was not possible to switch off for a moment,’ the report continues. Add to this the need to juggle different devices to communicate with clients and manage documents and the stress felt cramming onto a packed train hasn't disappeared, it's merely shifted to a different part of the working day.
Before lockdown, it felt like people were becoming addicted to technology (as shown by the growing number of articles on how to 'digitally detox' that started to emerge). Nearly three months in, people are dependent on it.
If remote hearings are to become a regular feature of the justice system, safeguards should be built in to the system to ensure digital fatigue doesn’t turn into digital burnout. For starters, there should be an automatic 10-minute break every hour. Some parties may feel like they can carry on a bit longer. But there’ll be some who really need a screen break, speak to their client properly, or in my case, reboot their broadband box.