Two Cents: Has Technology Taken Away Our Ability to Plan Ahead?

18 Mar

I recently was reminded of one of the central facts of my undergraduate days: if you didn’t get money out of your bank by 3 p.m. on a Friday, you were out of luck for the weekend. I was in college before cash machines appeared in banks, and getting cash meant standing in line for a teller to cash your check. Definitely not the good old days.

The results of this were many. It resulted in a certain amount of unintended frugality; it garnered higher ratings for weekend TV shows than they deserved; and it gave awesome power to those in a dorm who were foresighted enough to keep a decent supply of cash in hand. I don’t recall anyone actually charging interest—but those who were in the chips had a certain complacency that the rest of us lacked. I think that cash machines were the first consumer-service revolution of the digital age, the first hints of the transformation from a slower-moving world to a world of instant gratification.

One thing that the pre-cash-machine era did was eventually teach the simple lesson-get to the bank before it closes on Friday. I wonder if such lessons had any long-range value? Does the Web and all it enables make us less able to plan ahead? Is a movie we have to wait to see in the theatre, or even wait for in the mail, more enjoyable because of the time we spend in anticipation? Or is that all merely an attempt to justify the way things used to be?

Evan Cornog, dean of Hofstra University’s School of Communication

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