The weight of technology.

(Brought to you by and on technology)

My Apple Watch tells me I haven’t walked enough lately, and my digital scale agrees. My iPhone tells me I have decreased my screen time by 74% over last week, but I think that is only because it started the count again today. I grabbed my MacBook to clean up my email account, because it takes less time to delete pages of emails on the browser versus one at a time on the phone. I get a lot of email. I spent a good portion of my holiday vacation week unsubscribing and deleting email messages, but it’s like playing a giant game of Whack-a-Mole. I unsubscribe from one, and three more appear.

At one point, some Democratic committee mailing list got my first name wrong, so I get all these cringey emails with an incorrect (not even a REAL) first name. It makes me want to throw my computer across the room. I can’t seem to unsubscribe enough to make them all stop. A few years ago, I opened another email account, hoping I could wean myself off the first one, which I’ve had since late 2009. That hasn’t happened. Now I just have two email accounts that accumulate mail. The oldest one gets the most love. I should just turn one of them off – but which one? Oh yes, and there is a third email account that is for job hunting, training emails, and my HBOMax login only. It’s a more professional-sounding email address. I rarely need to check it, so I do that only once a week. And of course, I have my work email address, too, which also gets its share of spam.

I find myself wondering how I could just explode these email accounts and get rid of the weight around my neck and all this wasted time. On the weekend alone, I spend at least a couple of hours sifting through email and deciding what to delete. And on the weekend, I have to do lots of other chores – laundry, dishes, figuring out what to cook for the week – that have nothing to do with electronics. But I can’t completely be off the electronics all weekend. I have to do the care and feeding of all the accounts, pay bills, and order things I wish I didn’t need. I have to check my bank balance and order pet food and check in on friends via Facebook. I’ve spent a lot of money this year on my home office, which will give me some things to itemize for next year’s tax season. I’ve bought the sit/stand desk, an anti-fatigue mat for under the desk, and a new headset because the old one (5 years old) is starting to hurt my left ear. I can’t see any damage on the ear pieces, but by the end of each work day, my ear is sore. So all of my office expenditures this year have been to keep my body able to work. That’s just kind of … sad.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for my job and that I am still able to work. None of what has happened to my body, not fibromyalgia, nor Chiari malformation with its incessant migraines, nor arthritis, nor a bad cornea, nor a neck fusion and the chronic pain that has followed it, nor a life-threatening bleed, nor cancer has been able to stop me from working. As my son has pointed out to me on several occasions, I really like working! I just wish my livelihood didn’t take up all the vital hours I have in my day and that it didn’t require such an electronic presence.

If we look at the differences in America and Americans since the 70s, when the desktop computer was introduced to the public marketplace, and now, we can see a lot of changes in how we work, how we live, and how we look. Sitting in a chair for most of our lives has taken a toll on our backs, our muscles, our level of daily pain, and our longevity, not to mention our waistlines. There were many in society when I was growing up who either scorned those who had a desk job or dreamed they could get a cushy gig like that. Now most of us are working at least part of our day in a seated position, staring into multiple monitors, straining our eyes and our necks, and keeping a claw-like grip on a computer mouse. Is it any wonder we have crooked spines and headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome and poor eating habits? Doctors and weight loss gurus would love to blame us for being heavier than our ancestors were, but we didn’t change the rules. The rules just changed.

So now these devices and all this technology (which has fed my family very well over the course of my career) that was supposed to make things faster have actually resulted in us just doing more and more and more work. When I was young, I spent a good deal of the day at school or outside skating or biking. Now I count it a good day when I can make time for a walk. As a child, I got called a “book worm” a lot because I was always reading in my spare time. I can’t read as much any more because of the damage to my eyes. When I was a kid, “screen time” was that period of time in the evening when we watched TV as a family. (And yes, even then, folks were bemoaning television as being the downfall of modern society. The irony of all this isn’t lost on me.)

Adding to our level of inactivity and unhealthy work styles, the cheap foods that are widely advertised have become our go-to dinner when we’re busy or stressed out. All these foods have gotten higher in salt and sugar. School lunches are rarely nutritious (or so I hear – I no longer have kids in school). We’re indoors on our devices, so our vitamin D and calcium levels have sunk over the years. We would have a hard time getting our kids to pass the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge (remember that?). We’re depressed. We’re anxious. And even our high-tech skills don’t protect us from financial disaster. More people have been laid off in the tech industry in the past year than since the turn of the century’s dot com bust. Our moods aren’t improved by people blaming us for being fat or unhealthy.

I would love to spend more time outside. I wish I could go hiking in the woods. Today is foggy and drizzly, but I might get out for a walk anyway. Tree pollen is high, but I just added a second allergy medicine for daytime. Because of the eye problems and just life in general, I haven’t touched any of my musical instruments since I moved here last summer. I haven’t gotten on my indoor bike. Sometimes all I have the will to do is get through my weekend chores (including the email dredge) and catch up on some television. Can’t really even do that this weekend, though. I have a few chapters to read in a book that we’re working on in the book club at work. I find myself in a salty mood over it for several reasons. The print is rather small, so it will take me longer to read it as my eyes continually do battle with the text size. Also, after our book club read the last book, they wanted to form a working group to try to use what we’d learned to “coach up” to leadership. That would all be fine, if anyone in “leadership” were listening. I find I’m not so interested in pissing into the wind.

I’m in a rut at work (in my mind only, I think). I still get a lot done, but I’m tired of it. I’m so sick of the Bearded Men’s Club (TM) running the department. Mind you, a few of these guys I really like on a personal level, but the boys’ club is alive and well there. I don’t see any of the women getting the kind of support the men are getting. I’ve been working in corporate America for almost 40 years, and it is still the same. Women have to work twice as hard as men to get half the recognition.

My son tells me I need to value my life and my time more than I value my job. But the way I was raised, work sets the parameters for one’s life. I think it’s a Millennials and beyond concept that work is something you just do to pay for your leisure time. We Baby Boomers and even Gen Xers had it drilled into us that you needed a career and a fat retirement account so you could eventually get off the rat wheel and have some fun. The kicker is that by the time most of us can retire, we’ll be more ready for assisted living than for a trip around the world to try out all the best golf courses. That is a sad state of affairs! (Even writing that was a painful dose of reality.) If I can work until I’m 70 and if there is actually Social Security, at least I’ll have that monthly income, and it will be decent enough to pay for my monthly expenses and then some, but not enough to pay for a decent assisted living facility, should I need it.

To put my fretting into perspective for you, my father lived to age 59. My mother lived to age 76, but she spent those last 6 years either in assisted living or a nursing home. We don’t have great genetics in my family. When I was in my 30s, one of my doctors said I was as healthy as a horse. By my mid-40s, I had had several surgeries, a few serious health problems, and increasing reactions to medications and allergens. Fast forward to my own 59th birthday, which saw me finishing up treatment for cancer. If you don’t think I was thinking about my dad, then you’re not paying attention. I was happy and grateful to reach 60.

But even if I continue at this pace for the next 9 years, I still won’t have a ton of money put aside. The market has really sunk in the last few years. It’s like setting out to sail around the world in a leaky boat. You might get to your destination, but then again, you might sink. There is no guarantee on that money you set aside. Before most of you were born, the government decided that corporations don’t have to pay a pension to their loyal employees. Instead, employees are given the option to put money into and manage their own retirement accounts. (Those same employees will get no benefit from being loyal to their corporation now. In fact, all of us are just expendable. We’re simply numbers on a spreadsheet to be cut when they’re looking to save a little money – but give bigger bonuses to the executives.)

Those retirement accounts that we got in trade for pensions are subject to the volatility of the market, and the older you get, the less time you have for all that dollar-cost averaging they speak of. It makes me absolutely sick to think at one point my Tesla shares were worth over $1200 each and are now worth less than $200 a piece. Elon Musk has proven he has no business sense. Of course I have some money in mutual funds and in safer blue chip stocks. But I took money out last year for the move. I figured that part of my retirement plan was to move to cheaper housing (check), be close to my son (check), pay less in taxes (check), and to be able to live on what is predicted from Social Security (check with an asterisk – if the money is there). That way, whatever I have left in retirement accounts will pay for some vacations and whatever I need that Medicare won’t cover (because they limit the number of prescriptions they pay for per month, and the co-pays will be higher than they are now with insurance).

At work, there is also a possibility my shares in the company will be worth something. I had a dream last night that the company I work for was about to be sold. The last time that happened at a company I worked for, I got a nice chunk of change. I kept working there until I was laid off. The same would be true this time. It won’t be like the old days of the dot com boom, but it could put a pad in my retirement funds. Some change is coming. I can feel it. Now to hang on a little longer.

I look at people who work at restaurants and bars, who work long hours in retail, or who work several such jobs just to make ends meet. I wonder how they quiet the worry in their own minds about retirement. They will get a much smaller Social Security check than mine, so how will they live? Does anyone care about them? Will people blame them for not saving enough money for retirement? (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.) The funny thing is, when I was like them, living on less, I was happier. I work a lot more now, and I earn a lot more. But what has it done for me, aside from assuring me a higher Social Security check when I can no longer work? Meanwhile, my body is not as robust as it once was. I am heavier, slouched, and arthritic. But I’m alive.

We might be the first generation to not want to live longer, because we won’t be able to afford to.

I’ve got to spend more time thinking about myself and my needs and less about my job. It’s true that if I died tomorrow, they’d find another person to take my place in short order. But I just have this one life. I need to start pushing away from the technology and try to find a life for myself, before it’s too late.

Namaste, Jude

2 responses to “The weight of technology.”

  1. OMG, Jude, I share lots of your financial worries. The one thing you wrote that really hit home was the part about being the generation that may not want to GET to our potential end of life age for fear we may not be financially able to afford it. At least, that what I took away.
    When I was about 19, I was caring for my grand parents on day. They were both 99 years old. Grandpa, who was hard of hearing, was showing me pictures of his time in the military during WW1. Grandma, in her rocking chair, was shouting at him to quit boring me with his old pictures and stories (which were fascinating to me, by the way). Later that afternoon, Grandma told me, “Never grow old, it is awful!” She was blind with cataracts, frail, incontinent, and needed help toileting. She could no longer care for herself and her husband. This was NOT the way she wanted to live.
    I have carried that conversation with me ever since. I feel that sentiment to the bone. I dread growing old to the point as a relatively healthy person, I have a standing DNR order with my son. (I don’t believe my wife will honor it) but my son understands. I don’t want to FIGHT to grow old. I am a sissy. Growing old is not for sissies.


    1. I also have a DNR. If things go south and there is no hope for recovery with a good quality of life, rip the plug out of the wall.


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