Sunday, I was surfing the Internet (which I sometimes get to do when there is nothing in particular to do where I happen to be), when an article by Ethan Wolff-Mann, a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, appeared on the screen. Sorry, I do not remember the URL, but the title of the article is Here’s What Happens When a Business Gets Rid of Cash, and it appeared on Yahoo on 3/11/18. The focus of the article was not new – that eventually we will be living in a cashless society, using cards (credit, debit, or?) to make financial transactions. However, he discussed why some current businesses in New York City have transitioned to card only. It seems those businesses are quite happy with their decisions, in spite of some wrinkles (such as reactions from customers who use cash) that happen.
The promise (or threat) of a cashless society has been a potential financial structure ever since the use of credit cards (buy now, pay later) became common. The supposed way this would come to be is by government fiat – at least a recalling of cash, or in some renderings, the issuance of cards that contained financial, identity, and medical information all in one, and possibly, according to some, of implanting chips containing such information in people. However the prophesied means, the result would be that all financial transactions would be digital. Now, I have a different angle on it; according to Mr. Wolff-Mann, the transition would most likely occur by businesses themselves going completely digital for their own convenience, thus requiring consumers to follow suit. It would not be, then, by government fiat, but by the quiet, gradual, and mostly voluntary means of cash simply going valueless.
Humans generally love drama. The thought of a government (or other force) confiscating our cash, our gold, our crops (e.g., to feed their armies) or anything else of ours automatically raises adrenaline and puts us in the mood to protest. How much easier is a gradual happening, a change from physical to digital because of ease and convenience. Surely, those of us who like cash will protest, but who will we protest to? In the end, if we wish to buy and sell goods and services, we will need to acquiesce.
Let us assume for the sake of consideration that this issue may actually take place. It is already partially taking place. More and more consumers prefer to carry little cash and pay by card for the sake of convenience. Utilities and other people to whom we owe money urge us to use the “more convenient” digital way of paying, in which we do not really have to think about it. Direct deposit is already required by some employers who no longer wish to issue checks. In other words, people get into and out of our accounts as convenient digital transaction is already taking place. Perhaps all this is good. Perhaps convenience is what counts. Perhaps this is the way of the future, and resistance is futile.
I am sure that most people are aware of the convenience of digital transactions. I am not as sure that many people have stopped to think about either what we are losing or about what difficulties we are attracting by such a sweeping change. First, it seems to me that the issue of security is not guaranteed, or even quite likely. The ability of hackers to get into government departments, banks, and even Equifax, supposedly systems well protected by high security, does not bode well for the security of our digital identity, transactions, records and history. Identity theft, if one listens to the media, is at an all time high. I wonder if the convenience of frequent use of digital cards is worth the risk of credit or identity loss and the resulting major inconvenience. Second, the increasing availability of anything that goes online to be stored and held in giant data banks, to be withdrawn at will by authorized (and maybe also interested) parties, combined with other information and manipulated at will, does not bode well for the freedom to which people are or think they are accustomed. I, for one, do not like the idea of Big Brother watching me, or of living in a fishbowl. Going digital would practically result in giving up what we call privacy. It might also, under some circumstances which could occur, result in giving up individuality, as being watched can also lead to being expected to conform, to be the same. No dissent, no differing opinions or expressions. Perhaps no spending on things that are disapproved. That is not necessarily here now, but it certainly could be, if the trends are followed far enough. Or, what about those who simply like cash, who find it easier and comforting to have their resources physically available and in their control. It can be difficult to budget with a card, when it is so simple and easy to simply swipe it. Why budget when a machine/system can think for us, keep track of our accounts, allow us to overspend to the benefit of those down the line who profit from our impulse spending of the moment?
Going digital opens the door to losing, for the sake of convenience on our part, and control on the part of those who control the digital programs, the loss of our privacy, security, individuality, and thinking for ourselves. It also does something else: it reduces the actual face-to-face contact between people. The process of examining a seller’s merchandise, exchanging cash for it, taking the cash and counting it and giving change, and the interaction between cashiers (or buyer and seller) are lost in a digital transaction. People are no longer necessary; all that is necessary is a swipe (or scan). The self-check lines in the stores bear witness to this, especially in the stores that have six or seven self-check lanes open, but only two lanes with human cashiers. The current level of digitization and devices has already eroded our unmediated contact with each other. Computers at work help us work faster and longer and produce more, but they also diminish the time we have to spend with family and friends. TV watching often becomes a kind of parallel play; we are in the physical presence of each other, but the interaction is with the digital TV. We prefer texting on our devices or going to chat rooms to abandoning those devices and simply conversing with those around us. Some people seem to be losing even the art of conversation. In other words, our relationships and interactions are becoming – maybe have become – machine-mediated. Is this a result that we want? Do we want to be able to connect mostly by machine (which, besides reducing the personal interaction, can also be monitored by anyone with the skill to do it)? I think we have not thought about those things.
We have the power to influence the future by the actions and thoughts we take now. The future is not an inevitable condition being imposed upon helpless us; we are not powerless victims. Let us think now, before we have drawn to ourselves a future which we might regret, about the consequences of what is portrayed to us as convenient and progressive. Let us think so that we may actually choose that which would really benefit us. Going along with the flow without thought is not choosing. It is giving up our innate power. I wish for all the power of following potential consequences or results of given trains of thought and directions of action, and the will to exercise a thoughtful power to choose.