E-Commerce Makes Life Easier—Just Not Around Here

The Web is wonderful. Hooray for the Internet! E-commerce is going to save our sorry lives. Before we had all these dot coms, we must have been truly miserable. We had to drive all the way to the mall in our unbearable SUVs, push heavy shopping carts through grocery aisles, even buy stocks over the (gasp) telephone.

But now, e-commerce has arrived. Business to consumer is our cybersavior. Business to business will add billions to the bottom line. Life is richer! Fuller! Leisurely! Thanks to e-procurement, e-supply chain and e-verything else, we are on E-asy Street.

What are we, nuts? Let's stop kidding ourselves. E-commerce is e-vil! The Web is ruining our lives, and there's not a darned thing we can do about it. I've been in IT for twenty years, and in that time, I think I've made it home in time for dinner twice. IT is brutal. It's a non-stop, burnout, 80 hour a week business. But sadly, that's not enough. Now the grown-ups want e-commerce. They want e-catalogs by spring! Web EDI by summer! CRM by fall, although my boss doesn't even know what it stands for.

And with each e-commerce effort comes another big IT project on steroids. Everything has to be done fast! Done now! With no skills, no time, and vendors that change versions/releases each time the wind blows.

The world now runs on Internet time. Thanks to e-commerce, we have no life. No free time. No chance to leisurely surf the Web. Shop 24 by 7? No can do. I'm working 24 by 7, at cyberspeed, trying to keep up with the next dotcompetitor whose innovation hits us right in the schnoz.

On one of my many recent plane trips to Lord-knows-where, I saw this airport ad: a slender woman, sunbathing by the pool, surfing the Web from a lounge chair. Be serious. Has anyone ever done that? Sign me up, except I have no time—I haven't seen daylight since 1996. And with my luck, I'd drop my $1,800 laptop in the shallow end.

Let's get realistic. I'd like to e-mbrace e-commerce. I await the day I benefit from all this technology. But that day is not coming all that soon. Because every time some new dotcom comes up with another way to eat my company's lunch, the CFO panics, messes his comb-over, and runs down the hall screaming about how we all have to stay and work the weekend.

Technology is amazing. We can't get enough. And from now on, our gizmos and gadgets will keep us Yahooed and Lycosed wherever we go, even at four in the morning. But I'd rather be sleeping, thank you. Two years ago, I never imagined being able to e-order Dockers from my den. Now I can, and it's supposed to make life easier. But it doesn't, and I'm not sure it ever will. Because I have phone-mail! And e-mail! And a boss! And deadlines! And a pager in my pants pocket that vibrates 24 hours a day—and that's probably why I need a new pair of Dockers in the first place.

Mike Cohn lives in Atlanta, and has been working in e-commerce for two years—on the same six-month project.

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