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Daze of My Life: Fixed But Good

Daze of My Life
Fixed But Good
by Kenneth B. Lourie

It's becoming increasingly more difficult to find discretionary income in the Louries' monthly budget anymore. And not because the cost of inflation has risen so precipitously, which it hasn't, despite the escalation in the cost of gasoline. It's more that the mundane costs of daily living--telephone, television watching and recording, radio, mail, and even food and water, all of which used to be minimal--have morphed into fixed costs, unlike before. Many of these conveniences that we paid little for, and benefited much from, have bulked up, and we're all paying. If this new slew of expenses were part of a football game, the referee would likely call a penalty for piling on.
The telephone. Its monthly cost, other than for long distance, was hardly worth considering. Granted, you had to make your calls from a "Land Line," as we've come to distinguish phone service over the last decade, but rarely were you counting minutes, "roaming" or taking photographs, while talking on your phone. Now we have cellular phones. We can talk to anybody from anywhere. That's convenient. It's also become costly. Way more than we ever had to pay when Verizon was C&P.
The radio. Either in-dash or outside, in your hand or on your shoulder, AM/FM broadcasts were not monthly costs. If you want to be part of the future, however, satellite radio is the technology to have. At home or on the road, you can listen to programming everywhere from anywhere, not just your local signals. The only problem, so far as my limited experience can see is; it costs money, for the receiver and for the service.
The television. Sure there was only UHF and VHF, but for all practical purposes, once the television itself was purchased, the monthly cost to watch and maintain was zero. Then came Sony's Betamax. Programs could be recorded for viewing at a more convenient time. Again, once you bought the videocassette recorder (VCR), the monthly costs, other than the occasional reusable blank tapes, were pennies on the dollar.
Cable television soon appeared, and within a generation so had digital technology. Now to watch the available programming, "subscribers" had to pay. Sure it was, and is, optional, but in many homes, the decision is hardly that.
And the technology hasn't stopped at simply watching television; it has grown into recording television: TVO: a new, way to record programming. There's all sorts of bells and whistles to assist you in your programming needs, but there's
also dollars needed. The VCR was free; TVO is not. Yet another monthly fee.
The mail. A real live person, a mail carrier, delivered it. It came six days a week and cost nothing, other than the cost of stamps. Postage was rarely due. Once again technology arrived, electronically this time, and reared its convenient head. Now your e-mail can arrive anytime, on your computer, so long as you have an ISP, an Internet service provider, which of course you wouldn't need unless you had a computer. Sure the World Wide Web opened doors, but not before you opened your wallet or authorized a debit from your checking account. If you wanted access to your mail, you had to pay.
Food and water. I grew up drinking tap water and stopping and shopping at the local supermarket, in person. Now, if I want, I can pay someone, extra, via my computer, to shop for me and to deliver my groceries. Food shopping used to just cost for the product, now it can cost for the service, too. And to wash down all this home-delivered food, it's only natural that I pay for home-delivered water. If I'm tired of lugging 1-gallon jugs of spring water into my home or filtering my tap water and then filling my empties accordingly, all I have to do is call, and yet another monthly charge will be added to the ledger.
Add it all up, and what do you have? Hundreds of dollars spent every month on goods and services that used to be discretionary that now have become mandatory.
I see no valor in having this kind of discretion.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.

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