Thursday, July 26, 2012
Where your blogger grumbles about cashless societies and new needs
Fortune magazine had an article about the death of cash. There are now ways to pay for things with your smartphone, instead of using cash, debit cards, or credit cards. My initial reaction? I winced. Then I thought, Why are you being so reactionary? Maybe it's a good thing. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
On one hand, yes, GEE WHIZ TECHNOLOGY. It's amazing. Indeed.
On the other hand, I remember those studies that show how easily we spend more when we don't actually handle the money ourselves. Using a credit (or even a debit card) instead of cash often results in people spending more than usual--in fact, the amount more people are willing to spend with plastic is jaw-dropping. Somehow, the act of touching your money and handing it over makes it a bit more difficult to part with it. If you don't see it or touch it? Well, it's not like it feels real, then. It's like play money. I'm way more daring in a Monopoly game than in real life, and for good reason.
Also, I'm not all that chuffed about yet another gadget becoming a necessity. I have a lower tech, pay as you go dealie mobile phone. It's already becoming "necessary" to use a smartphone to get more information on certain products--you scan the symbol on them--and if this becomes the main way to pay for things, we'll all need these stupid things. Or our lives will be much more difficult. Back in 1995, it was quite possible--and common--to not have an internet connection. Now you really do need one if you want to get a job, stay in touch, get information, etc. Things that used to be luxuries become needs, and it's not always because we got used to having them and refuse to let them go. It's because people who either have the money to spend, or who are willing to go into hock, use these things and suddenly it's assumed that everyone does, so the way we used to do things is almost forced by the wayside. Prospective employers get job applications via email and job sites. Working payphones are becoming a rarity. And so it goes.
If plastic and smartphone modes of paying were so ubiquitous when I was a kid or a teenager, I would have been lost. It really helped me to actually count the money, see it, have to hand it over. It made it real and concrete to me. I didn't have to try and remember how much was in my account (I only went by how much was in my wallet) and I didn't have to try and remember that this was real money with real consequences for me if I blew it all. A lighter wallet is all it took to remind me of that.
So, yes, gee whiz! Technology is cool. But I wonder how much deeper in the financial hole people will go when it becomes even easier to spend money. You don't even have to pull out a card anymore, you just use your smartphone.
I don't charge very many things anymore (and I don't have a smart phone so this whole new way to pay is moot for me). Right now, I pay for gas with a credit card (I have to buy gas to get to work, so it's not like this is a frippery that I'm spending more money than necessary on.) I pay the thing in full every month.
I used my debit card for other purchases but now I'm wondering--maybe I should go for a month by using cash only. Even for gas. I'm wondering if by using my debit card it's easier for me to spend more than I intend to.
What do you all think?