A Slave To Technology

I have a bank account that is solely used to pay my mortgage. In fact, I have several bank accounts for different functions—one where a portion of my paycheck is deposited for savings, and a joint account for my wife and me to manage everyday needs and bills—and then funds are divvied up for health benefits, investments, charity, and retirement. Each of these accounts is computer-accessible, and the codes to make such transactions are all different for security purposes.

We have forms for doctors, dentists, optometrists, drug stores, and insurance and tax references stored the same way; they can be accessed with codes entered online or on the phone. My job, my wife’s job, and my son’s school and his grades are also accessible in order to check hours, assignments, messages, etc. Hit a couple keys and the information is right there in front of my face.

On the morning after my pay has been deposited, I sit before the computer in the small hours of the dawn, paying bills electronically, therefore, no stamps, no envelopes, no checks, no money orders, or anything else to muss with. By the time I pour a cup of coffee and get in the car to head to the office, my personal budget is balanced and I’ve taken the right steps to keep the lights on and the house warm.

While this approach may not really be any different than anyone else’s, I have to admit I like how tidy it all has become. The online stores for holiday purchases, flower shops, and engraving places make personal gifts so easy to gather. I can even set programs that will remind me of anniversaries, birthdays,—things I shouldn’t forget (but often do).

My company even uses a telephonic doctor service that I can call from home, speak with a physician who is reviewing my previously entered medical charts, and get a prescription. I avoided what promised to be a substantial bout of bronchitis early this past winter when I obtained an antibiotic following a 2 a.m. telephonic doctor discussion and a visit to an all-night drug store. By starting meds that Friday night, I was already on the mend by Monday and didn't miss a day of work, as I was not contagious after 48 hours of initial treatment.

All of these modern conveniences have saved so much time and effort, and have given me so many freed-up moments I can’t describe how fortunate I feel. But why—despite all this technology and efficient operation—don’t I feel more at ease? Why do I constantly feel like I forgot something or left something off my list? I have spoken with many friends who agree there is unsettledness in the collective masses, and we can’t really explain why. But lately I’m beginning to see what might be the cause: It’s simply a little too much.

Applying The BrakesThere are too much data and too many investments, responsibilities, options, and obligations. I think maybe it’s time to simplify some of that, to pull back and focus on a few primary things but not EVERYTHING. I feel like I handle these responsibilities capably, but I don’t think I attend to any of them really well anymore. It’s like Ben Franklin’s principle that suggested anytime he met someone good at making excuses, he usually found that person wasn’t good at anything else. As I often do when trying to move forward, I take a couple steps backwards and look around.

I remember when I was a kid my parents’ “investment portfolio” was simply getting their house paid off. It was the lifetime investment that almost every American strove for. Paying the house off meant one could retire and live the quiet life with minimal income required. The fire-breathing dragon (mortgage debt) had been slain. Well, early on, I tried to emulate that idea and made extra house payments on the “principal” part of my mortgage for years; then, in 2008, I blew through my financial garden and took away almost every vegetable of equity I had planted. So, I decided to scrap that idea. Instead, I started adding more to my retirement account and got my mortgage refinanced and reduced to the lowest rate possible. I began to feel better immediately, with less money going to slow investment, and more going to one that would add value sooner. I was on a roll.

Time To Reorganize

I pulled out my former tax returns, and my wife and I pared down the charitable contributions to a few key associations instead of the scattershot approach of supporting everything we had any interest in. We chose to help battered women, veterans, and children with physical challenges. Then we struck a balance between how many people each of us should “claim” on our individual paychecks so we didn’t get any end-of-the-year surprises when we added up what was owed to or owed from the IRS. The clouds began to clear.

I added other efficiencies. I sent out an email telling friends and family that if I hadn’t answered their email messages by Friday evening, I would not be reviewing them until Monday. If they really needed to contact me, they should call directly or reach out in some other way. It became their responsibility to reach me instead of my responsibility to call BACK. Ah-ha, I thought I was onto a concept here. I rolled the dice and took another turn.

I dreaded seeing the blinking green light on my answering machine when I walked in the door. I also considered how often a partial message was left or one from a friend who asked me to call back but didn’t leave a number. I would then have to figure out where to reach that party and how … and WHY? After all, that person was the one who needed something, so my family and I talked it over and decided that, since we all carry cell phones and are fairly accessible in general, the home answering machine was just another unnecessary obligation. I threw it away just to make sure I didn’t put it back in a weak moment. Sweet liberty!

I finally realized the “screen” that had been missing was simply one where I was prioritizing things based on doing a “favor” for everyone else instead of my family and me. It might sound a little selfish, but don’t misidentify the motive. If I want to simplify my obligations and minimize the paperwork, it has to be about my priorities and not just serving others. By setting parameters, my friends, technology can work for us, not make us work harder for it.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.