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The Cost of Technology Today

The Cost of Technology Today
Technology guarantees this is not your grandfather's world, but it carries a price tag that must be weighed against the benefits.

My wife, Carla, opened the cellphone bill a few days ago and couldn't believe her eyes. It was $200 higher than it had ever been before, and it's already high enough that I gripe about it every month. That's because mom and dad are still supporting cell phones for four grown kids on the plan. Once they get jobs, that stops. In fact, the oldest has been told that once she gets a job, she can start paying all her bills plus a monthly stipend to us, just because. She's starting to think I'm not kidding.

SQUARING UP A PAYMENT: This image from Square (the processor used by the 19-year-old entrepreneur) allows a business to accept credit cards and use the smartphone to process the payment. There are other types on the market too, it's a service small businesses may find of value.

Anyway, as it turns out, the bill was legitimate. The overage happened because neither my wife nor I understood exactly how the complicated plan worked. We went three years not being charged for extra minutes and then one month, after finally eating up rollover minutes, unbeknown to us, shot into the stratosphere on phone costs. Of course, the phone provider didn't send a red flag message saying you're out of minutes and now getting charged. They only send message trying to lure you into some new service that you likely don't need. Sometimes they even add it whether you request it or not. It has happened twice to us already.

This one month's cell phone was higher than my parents paid when I was growing up for land line service in a year plus six months! Is cell phone service handy? Yes? Is it essential? It is if you have an emergency, and it is in my line of work? Do we abuse it? Probably. My mom and dad never ran around the house saying "I can't find my telephone" like it was a huge crisis. The black phone with the rotary dial was always on the desk, hooked to a cord.

Technology lets us do things that were once though impossible. I just watched a 19-year old entrepreneur with a meat business show me how they use a tiny device that fits in the palm of their hand, which in turn fits into their smart phone, to offer credit card service to customers at farmers markets. It's already raising sales because once people know she can take credit cards, they buy their "wants" and not just the needs they could buy with the cash in their pocket.

Is there a cost? Yes. It cost her just under 3% for every transaction. She sees it as an investment.

Gizmos for your planter, auto-steering - they all are technologies no one could have imagined, some of them not even 5 years ago. When used right, many of them save money, some right away, like row-shut-off clutches that save seed and supposedly pay for themselves in a year or two. Others save over the long run. Some provide intangibles, like keeping you fresh and alert longer into the day so you don't make a mistake out of fatigue.

But each one carries a price tag. We're going to remedy the phone situation by increasing our plan minutes. That's if I don't throw it against the wall in frustration first. But this has taught me a costly lesson. We all need to pay attention to what every piece of new technology is costing us, and weigh each on its own merits. Some 'gee-whiz' technologies pay for themselves quickly and are no-brainers. Others may be 'gee-whiz' and be cool, but cost more than their worth.

Check your cell phone now. Make sure you don't get a $200 surprise!

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