Internet Quality Of Life

The reality of improved qualify of life will never be reality unless you choose to make it so.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 3/1/1999; Law Practice Management magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; American Bar Association

In the 1982 cartoon book “Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon,” by B. Kliban, (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0894801988/), there is a cartoon entitled “Better Living through Plywood” which shows a businessman driving/flying down the sidewalk on a levitating piece of plywood. Passersby smile at this impressive display of technology. Of course, plywood can’t do this, and the “promise of plywood” hasn’t changed our lives as dramatically as may have been first imagined by its inventors. But plywood is quite useful, is an integral part of my house, and has, in fact, made my life better.

So, too, with the Internet. It’s not helping me to fly down the street, but the Internet is an integral part of my life, one which has improved my quality of life.

Internet News

For example, do you remember where you were when you heard about the latest round of attacks on Iraq? I was in my office, and a coworker shouted from his cubicle, “Hey, we’re bombing Iraq.” When I walked to his desk, he had the news (which was then 45 minutes old) live on his computer screen, complete with pictures of the bombing and live video feeds, all courtesy of CNN’s Web site. I did watch the evening news that day, but I had already read all about the event – including a timeline of the conflict – on CNN’s Web site. So the evening “news” wasn’t that new to me.

Internet Banking

Also, I recently wrote about my Internet-assisted move from Boston to Denver. I continue to be pleasantly surprised with how the Internet is helping in this transition. For example, before I know that I was moving, I had switched banks from my old bank to BankBoston (http://www.bankboston.com/) because they offered Web-based banking. Interestingly enough, after I’d opened my new account and redirected my direct deposit, my old bank started offering Web-based banking. Another case of why being first to market is important.

As much as I like technology, I generally prefer to customize technology as little as possible. I guess I think that technology devices should do their jobs out of the box. For example, I don’t use speed-dial, don’t program my cell phone, don’t code my fax number into the fax machine, don’t customize my computer interface. (OK, I customize Windows a little bit to turn off annoying features like Active Desktop. And I customize my Macintosh a little bit to allow my kids to login and play games.) I also keep a paper schedule (I’ve been using the same three-ring binder for nearly a decade), keep a paper contact list (no batteries required), and drink my coffee black. Actually, I was shamed into drinking my coffee black when I was a freshman at MIT. My friend Peter said that I should get used to drinking it black, because if I ever wanted coffee when cream and sugar were not available, I’d be out of luck. Fourteen years later, I’m still drinking it black, and cream and sugar have always been available!

And, until recently, I didn’t carry an ATM card and balanced my check book with pen, paper, and calculator. So my switch from paper-based banking to Web-based was, for me, pretty radical. As I mentioned, I have direct deposit. With HomeLink from BankBoston, I can define payees, schedule one-time or recurring payments to those payees, and transfer funds to and from my various accounts. Certain vendors are set up so that funds are electronically transferred. For those that are not, BankBoston automatically prints and mails a check via a Texas-based company. So if I set up myself as a payee and scheduled a monthly $500 payment via HomeLink, I’d received a check in the mail monthly from Texas. Pretty nifty. There are all sorts of bells and whistles (Yikes! Customization!) such as balance forecasting and messaging. I fiddled with the system for a while until I got it just right. My bill paying time was cut in thirds. No more checks to write. No envelopes to stuff. No stamps to stick.

And then came word of my move from Boston to Denver. And it occurred to me that I didn’t need to change banks! Oddly enough, moving to Denver means my non-electronically-enabled local payees get paid quicker, since my BankBoston checks come from Texas, and the Texas-to-Denver mailing time is less than the Texas-to-Boston mailing time.

I’ve never really paid to much attention to FirstVirtual, CyberCash, micropayments, and the like. But if you ask me, Internet banking and the associated possibilities is the real future of ecommerce. And my ATM card is a MasterCard debit card, so I can shop online and check my balances online.

Internet Commerce

Can we please kill the term “ecommerce”? It’s commerce. When you buy something in a store with a credit card, the request and approval are sent and received electronically. Hey, sounds like “ecommerce” to me! So Internet-based “ecommerce” is merely a logical extension of how we’ve been doing business for a long long time.

What amazes me about Internet commerce is how quickly it appears to be catching on. This past holiday season, my parents told me that they did 90% of their shopping via the Web. Pretty cool! That tells me that Internet commerce is ready for prime time.

I don’t remember the last time I bought a book anywhere other than Amazon.Com, or software anywhere other than PC/MacConnection.

I also recently tried selling and old CD-ROM drive at Ebay, a Web-based auction site. Easy, fun, and profitable, all without leaving the comfort of my home.

Internet Living

But beyond getting news, banking, buying, and selling, the Internet allows me to spend more time with my family. Every day, without apology, I leave work at a reasonable time (usually between 5:00 and 5:30) so that I can spend time with my wife and three kids before the kids go to bed. We have dinner, play a few games, I get to give the kids a bath, and then I read the kids a couple of books before putting them to bed. Seeing your kids awake for a couple of hours every day. That’s quality of life. And about three nights per week, after the kids are asleep, I take out my laptop, connect to the Internet, and catch up on any urgent work matters. If I stayed two extra hours at work, I’d miss the time with my kids. Because of the Internet, I don’t.

This was truly the promise of technology. That it would save time, and we’d have more time for the things that we enjoy doing. Dishwashers, lawnmowers, computers. The promise is the same. But the reality of improved qualify of life will never be reality unless you choose to make it so. You do not “have to” be at work past 5:00. You CHOOSE to be at work past 5:00. I’ve chosen to use the Internet to get news, do my banking, buy and sell stuff, and to save time for what really matters.

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