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It feels like every soundbite that I hear recently is about our personal, state, or national debt and insolvency. Friends will quip about our indenturship to the Chinese; white-haired uncles bemoan a sea-change that’s left America a harder country to realize one’s dreams than when they first set foot some thirty years ago; and Facebook friends from back home insist that the Land of Opportunity is at least a few solid timezones away from where I am.

That got me thinking about where our government spends money, and more importantly, where I spend money. It is, after all, both personal and national expenditure that the Chinese purchase of US bonds helps. It didn’t take me long to realize that my largest expense each year is taxes - by far. And by “far”, I mean more than the price of my new car “far”.

A little bothered, I started researching where all my tax money really goes. And I found the following receipt on Ezra Klein’s blog post at The Washington Post. Topping the list are: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, and interest on national debt. We, as a nation, can’t have a legitimate deficit-reduction conversation without talking about those items. Talk of congressional wage freezes makes me quite ill-humored.
receipt

It is always mildly embarassing to visit my blog and notice that months have passed since my last post. Of course, I silently chide myself for lacking the sheer grit to persevere and write. And then I get the sinking feeling that I don’t have a single original thought! (And Lord knows what that means for my chances at life.)

Today, however, I am going to rationalize away my sporadic blogging as a virtue and not a vice. No more victimhood for me (till next month at least):

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot. DH Lawrence

A very close friend of mine recently blogged about one’s inclination to phrase everything as absolutes in a post titled “Relative to What?”. Take “I am successful.”

It is always refreshing to be reminded about my proclivity to yield to groupthink and my myopic definition of life. I tend to think like those around me at that time. For instance, historically, my definition of success has patterned itself on my surroundings. When I lived and worked in rural upstate NY in a small town called Houghton, success was how much free time I had to go creek-walking or doing stupid human tricks on the floor of my apartment with close friends. When I moved to Buffalo and started commuting to Boston once a month, success was the next big contract.

Today, I am involved in an IVR company at a time when telephony is seeing a paradigm shift and success, suddenly, isn’t our recent CBS and WebMD contracts, but rather how successful we are in pioneering new frontiers in VoIP application delivery.

Why is it that that which was once good enough, no longer is?

My wife always tells me, “You’re never content because you shift your frame of reference all the time.” It’s hard to not scratch your competitive itch when a 30 year-old is doing cooler stuff than you or the suits you hang out with are making more money than you. You get caught up; myopia sets in; you stand patterned.

That’s when, like Akshay states in his blog, “Information exposure alone is…powerful.” Powerful in letting you see past yourself. You take stock of those who are not in the group you model yourself after. I think about my good friends living good lives that are (in their own right) patterned differently. I realize they too struggle with defining life and success. And I realize their journey of definition is alien to me as will be their destination.

What you do, what makes you happy, what gets you going - it’s all relative to your reference point. I breathe deep and remind myself to not take things in my life too seriously. What is success? You have nothing to prove to yourself because nothing, after all, can be proven. What’s more, I smirk knowing that if I encounter failure, I always have the option to redefine what my success is about on-the-fly and (by deft slight of hand) my failure is no more a failure!

Defining what you’re about is arbitrary and pegged to an arbitrary standard - both controlled by you. And only you measure yourself. So, am I successful? Don’t know - relative to what?

In an increasingly interactive world with ever-powerful gadgets to entertain, inform, and organize our lives, the basic telephone seems passe and very few businesses think about utilizing a phone call for anything more than connecting customers to agents or allowing customer self-service using interactive phone response. These businesses are missing out.

I have had the joy of living and breathing interactive voice response (IVR) for 45 days at my new venture - IVR Technology Group. And I am amazed at how much life there is (still) in a telephone call. Forget your morbid thoughts of touch-tone hell and not being able to speak to a live person for a second. Think creatively, instead. Here is an example:

With new FTC/FCC rules in place starting September 1, 2009 that makes outbound telemarketing even harder to do, companies are scrambling to find ways to get prospects to give them actionable phone information. But what better way to get an actionable lead than by taking a captive audience and offering them a few minutes of entertainment in exchange for their phone number? Imagine a large digital display on an empty airport wall where bored people are sitting waiting for their plane. The digital display gives out a toll-free phone number that people can call in using their cellphones. When they call in, they are automatically enrolled into a car racing game. Each caller gets a car and the race begins. A caller can press 4 to speed up, 6 to slow down, 1 or 8 to turn etc. The keypresses on their cell phones are captured by an IVR application and communicated to the game server via web services. Loads of fun for a bored caller and an actionable contact for some company.

Imagine also the ability to instantly communicate time-sensitive information across multiple devices using only a telephone. You are a payroll processing company and your client web portal goes down. You call into an IVR application, record a message saying your site is down, and hang up. The IVR application then, in a matter of seconds, pulls up your contact lists, sends an automated call to some and plays your message, and for those who prefer email and text messaging communications, it converts your message into text and sends it out.

It’s pretty amazing what can still be accomplished with a phone and a dialtone! And the cost is not prohibitive to boot. With advances in technology, companies like IVR Technology Group can create and host IVR applications for businesses in the “cloud”. This means no technology to install, no changes to your PBX that you can barely administer extensions on, and a rapid launch.