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Thursday, July 2, 2009 02:55 am

Teching things to extremes

A view inside opposing camps of the gizmo revolution

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John Sharp practices law without a computer.
PHOTO BY DUSTY RHODES

Two years ago, Todd Green was happy with his Blackberry. Or so he thought. Then he went to his son’s basketball practice, where another dad hanging out in the bleachers was showing off this new contraption called an iPhone. “He starts to show me some of the stuff on it, and I’m like — this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Green says. The next Monday morning, he was at the AT&T store, amputating an arm and a leg (he wasn’t eligible for an upgrade) to acquire the snazzy gadget.

Last week, John Sharp was happy with his Blackberry, too. Or so he thought. Then he realized that this PDA he had been persuaded to accept (he was overripe for an upgrade) had more bells and whistles than he could handle. He had no use for the phone’s e-mail, or camera, or MP3 player or GPS or video or wireless Web browser or the assortment of polyphonic ringtones. He just wanted to be able to make an occasional phone call, and maybe answer a text message from his secretary.

The difference between Green and Sharp isn’t age; Sharp is 50, Green is 49. It’s mindset. Or maybe the separate planets they’re from. Green is an edgy gadget guy; Sharp is a militantly proud dinosaur. “Several of my friends have tried to drag me into the 20th century,” he says.

Sharp is a criminal defense attorney, and he calls his office the “dead animal zoo” — it’s adorned with stuffed trophies of animals killed on his vacation trips to places like Alaska and Wyoming. What it’s not adorned with is a computer. Or a typewriter. Or even a voice recorder. Sharp writes all court pleadings on yellow legal pads, using a ballpoint pen. His executive assistant, Jason Shanle, then types them on his own computer.

“I also set up a billing system for the office,” says Shanle, who started working for Sharp and his partner Mike Harmon in December 2004. “It’s mainly a spreadsheet, but it’s better than the 3-by-5 cards we had when I came here.”

About 90 percent of the firm’s cases involve DUI charges. Each of those cases comes with a DVD of the traffic stop, which Sharp always watches — on Shanle’s computer. “I set it up so that all he has to do is hit one button,” Shanle says. “I don’t think John could find the DVD player on the computer. He is truly hands-off all technology.”

It’s not just in the office. Sharp doesn’t use the DVR feature on his television at home. “I’ve never recorded anything in my life,” he says. He does all of his banking the old-fashioned way, writing out checks, mailed with stamps; he doesn’t ever use an ATM card. “There’s a lot of technology that I just don’t need. I’ve never had a use for it,” he says. “I’m freaking you out here, aren’t I?”

I’m apparently not the only one. Sometime around 1997, Sharp’s friends and colleagues in the court system became so frustrated by his technotardation, they took up a collection and gave him a pager. It wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift; “It was an intervention,” he admits. A year later, he got a cell phone, but he has never activated the voice mail. If you call and he recognizes your number, he will call you back.

Green’s taste for technology impacts his friends and colleagues too, albeit in the opposite way: Soon after he got his iPhone, he bought them for his closest relatives, and provided incentives to ensure that 40 key employees at Green Family of Auto Stores carry iPhones too. Last week, when Apple unleashed the new 3G S version — with video and voice control — he offered to pay half the cost for any of those employees who wanted to upgrade. Thirty of them took him up on the offer.

“I spent $3,000 to take care of people, and now they’ve got the coolest new toy in the country. That’s cheap for me,” Green says. “It’s important for me to have people say, ‘I really love coming to work.’ ”

He uses the phone for much more than idle chatter. He has downloaded “apps” that deliver USA Today and the Associated Press wire straight to his phone. “I’m getting stuff before it’s in the State Journal-Register. I’m a news junkie,” Green says. Another app shows him weather radar, which helps him know when he can take off in the company plane.

With the new iPhone, he was able to send his wife video of their son Gabriel playing in an AAU basketball tournament in Kentucky, plus three races at Churchill Downs.

While Green is enjoying his new phone’s cutting edge qualities, Sharp is seriously contemplating returning his high-tech Blackberry gizmo to the AT&T store and asking for something closer to the wireless equivalent of a rotary dial phone. One man’s treasure is another man’s burden.

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