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The Lie of Time-Savers

By Russ Gambrel, Senior Consultant

At the risk of dating myself, I witnessed the installation of my local bank’s first cash machine when I was kid. It looked like a robot.   Boatman’s Bank –since swallowed in countless mergers- was the regional bank of choice for folks in St Louis in the 1980s.   My father had suggested I open up a passbook savings account there so that I could start learning how to manage money.   One Saturday morning, I accompanied him to the bank where he got his weekly cash. (That’s right, there was actually a time in this world when we needed to go to the grocery store or bank, in order to cash a check and have paper money to spend during the week). At any rate, as I stood there marveling at the massive “robot” –about the size of the lunar landing module- one of the installers told me it was an “ATM Machine”.

 Installer: “ATM stands for automated teller machine”.

Me: “so it is a robot”

Installer: “It will save us from waiting hours and hours in line at the bank”.

Me: “wow! Very cool! So long as we all realize that “ATM Machine” stands for automated teller machine…machine”.

 As we drove home, my dad talked about how this particular advancement in technology was going to unleash countless weekends of free time. I could tell he was already spending those forthcoming extra hours in his mind.   And then reality happened and my Mom simply quadrupled his Saturday to-do list.

If there is anything I’ve come to realize about technology in the past 20 years, an era in human history in which we’ve advanced more than the prior 200 years combined, it is this: any alleged time-saving device will serve only to raise expectations around us. Time was, I could clock out of my job and leave work without any expectation whatsoever that I would be reachable until I returned the next day. At current, a person could get fired for not at least taking their cell phone (preferably their laptop!) with them on vacation in the event there was an emergency at work. Just think about that.

On average, most office-bound American workers in 2014 sent and received I21 emails a day! One hundred and twenty-one!(The Radicati Group in Palo Alto actually tracks this stuff. Their research is mind-blowing). Anecdotally I can tell you that around 89% of emails are of the CYA variety. They do not serve any real educational purpose other than notification that someone has potentially “blame-casted” their situation to you and God forbid you neglected to read it if/when something goes wrong. Thank you technology!

I guess you could say it all started back in 1876 when Alexander Graham did none of us a favor by inventing the telephone.   That alone doubled your boss’ expectations from the standard of the day –actual, in-person, face-to-face human talking- to a newer, audio-only alternative.   Then came answering machines, cell phones, voicemail, IM, and email.   And I thought I was drowning in messages back then. Today we’ve added 50 more at least. I was in an executive meeting last month when my client’s company founder got so frustrated by all the different means of communication, he declared the immediate need for a “canonical megaphone”.   I loved hearing him say that (not to mention it sounds like the coolest album title ever).   It also reminded me that the rank & file are not going to change things from their end.   Stopping the madness has to start at the top with company leadership alleviating the burden and moving towards a single megaphone.   In doing so, they may actually have to fight technology. But not to worry. If the Terminator films taught us anything …it’s that humans are built to fight technology. In particular, robots.


Russ is a Senior Consultant, CPA and former Controller with more than 15 years of accounting, auditing, banking and financial expertise. Russ has traveled countless miles from San Francisco to Richmond, VA. helping clients navigate the complexities of business.  Connect with Russ and learn more about how he can help you and your business. d: 804-441-8027 | c: 804-922-3571 | e-mail: