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As I See It

Population decline ripples through city

This week our editorial focus is communication technology. To say that this subject is germane to business is to state the obvious. Technical advances in communication and information dissemination have changed the face of business over the past couple of decades and new discoveries continue to flood the market. Communication moves so much faster and everyone is more accessible. These technological advances have changed the business landscape substantially and forever.

Being, by nature, technically challenged I was slow to jump on the bandwagon. To make matters worse, I was mostly out of the country when the technology revolution really got started.

Got a late start — hard to catch up

Though home-based in Mississippi, I spent most of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Mexico. When I left accountants were using yellow pads for words and column pads for numbers. When I came back from Mexico in early ‘94 everyone had replaced paper pads with PC’s. Not being of a technically curious disposition, plus getting a late start, has put me well behind the times and I may never catch up.

Having now learned the mere basics of e-mail, Word and cell phones, I am gradually integrating back into the human race. I still do my thinking with a yellow pad and pen and probably always will. However, I do leave my cell phone off most of the time and I don’t check e-mail every day. I suppose it’s somewhat of a cavalier attitude but I don’t get paid to be accessible and I don’t like to be disturbed when I’m doing something.

With such a dysfunctional attitude I’m clearly out of step with modern society. I see people everywhere with cell phones stuck to their heads. Unfortunately, many of them are driving a little erratically while chatting away. Recently, while in line at a Subway sandwich shop, the customer ahead of me used her cell phone to construct the perfect turkey sandwich for someone else. Unlimited minutes has its drawbacks.

Along with the advantages of modern communications comes the problem of e-mail spam. I don’t know who let the cat out of the bag about my physical shortcomings and my financial ineptitude, but clearly the word is out. For every legitimate e-mail it seems that I get 20 that offer free pornography, mortgage refinancing, vitamins, hair transplants and millions of dollars from some guy in Nigeria. “Delete all” is possibly the most useful key on the computer.

Technology making life better

I certainly don’t want to downplay the improvements in our lives made possible by advances in communication technology. From new tools for medical treatments to GPS applications in agriculture and the speed of information processing in general, technology has made our lives better. And, it’s likely that this trend toward more uses for ever faster technology will not only continue, but the pace is likely to quicken.

Doctors are diagnosing more diseases sooner and have more effective treatments available now than ever before thanks to advances in technology. Business management has risen to levels unthinkable just a few years ago. GPS technology allows freight dispatchers to know where each driver is at all times and provides farmers a tool to maximize the effectiveness of fertilizer. Teller-less banking is catching on and giving banks tools to serve more customers cheaper. The frantic pace of change is dizzying.

Advanced communication technology has allowed business to eliminate an entire layer of middle management resulting in ever increasing productivity. This is great news for stockholders but a bummer for middle managers. Technology has also eliminated quite a few clerical positions. The migration of American jobs offshore has been helped along through the miracle of technology.

Too much accessibility

While all this new technology is great I wonder if we’re not putting ourselves in sensory overload. Is it really good to be so wired that we’re always accessible? 24/7? When are we going to get any thinking done if we’re constantly in touch with everybody, all the time? Frankly, I can’t handle it and that’s why I don’t turn my cell phone on unless I have a reason to. Further, I don’t take a laptop to our hunting club, partially because I don’t have a laptop, but I wouldn’t do it anyway.

There are times, lots of times, when I just don’t want to be disturbed. Leadership is about more than just communicating. One must invest some quiet time in thinking about what is to be communicated.

How can we better our lives through communication technology without sacrificing our down time? Take the advice of this plodding old dinosaur. Block out some quiet time. Every day. I think everyone needs a little “me” time mixed in with our busy schedules. Whether you’re an executive, a stay-at-home-mom or a professional wrestler, you still need some peace and quiet every day. If you can’t bear the thought of being out of touch for an hour a day, perhaps you really need to challenge your time management priorities. Read any good books lately?

Thought for the Moment

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you. — Proverbs 30:8

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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