Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Better than money


 
     I don't expect that many people visiting Los Angeles go with the specific intention of visiting the Wells Fargo History Museum on South Grand Avenue. I certainly didn't. It's small, and modest, and off the beaten track. I had never heard of it.
     But my accommodating brother-in-law, Don, took us by during a tour of his neighborhood, and I was entranced. 
     Not so much with the stage coach or the gold ingots or the other romantic Old West trappings -- the saddle bags, the telegraph, the copper scales and such. Those were nice.
     But I was captivated by the advertising promoting what is now commonplace: credit cards and 24-hour automated tellers, which were given women's names to make them less mechanized and forbidding. 
      People had to be taught how these systems worked, and reassured that their money would be safe in them. It was a long process — only recently did I stop counting the cash that an ATM spits out —what's the point? It's always correct.
     Credit cards are older than I am — they showed up in the late 1950s as a benefit for business travelers. But I remember the advent of ATMs. Edie and I still smile thinking of how, more than 30 years ago, we approached the first cash machine we had to use, cautiously and not without a trace of fear, as if it might bite us.  To see those twenties spitting out of a slot in a wall -- amazing!
    You really don't need cash much—every fast food joint, convenience store and taxicab accepts a credit or cash card. I'd hate to try to put a date on cash falling away almost entirely: five years? Ten? Fifteen, tops? The new ads, if they are even required, might say, "Better than money." 
    How will our grandchildren view the shift? Like an unimaginable bother? Similar to washing clothes against a rock? Or will hard currency and coinage seem tokens from a lost, romantic past, the way we view candle-lit homes and travel on horseback? Most likely they'll never think about it at all. 




   


8 comments:

  1. A rational society would probably nationalize the credit card industry and eliminate the mint, but "rational" certainly doesn't describe the present, the past or the future, does it?

    john

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just the other day I was pondering how, just a few short years ago, getting cash for any kind of activity involved standing in line, during business hours, in a bank. If you missed the business hours, or it was a weekend, you were out of luck. Now, if I need cash, I almost always get it while at the supermarket, or from an ATM. The idea of going into a bank to get cash, a regular occurrence much of my life, is as common now as using a pay phone, which is another way of saying it simply doesn't happen. While picking up a cup a coffee the other day, the young person in front of me waved his iPhone near the cash register and the transaction was complete. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie. Was it my imagination or did I sense a moment of pity when I used a credit card without a chip and had to slide it? Modern technology is like having a term paper due every week. It wears me out keeping up. I'm close to putting on sweat pants and watching Gilligan's Island reruns. On my phone.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There was a New Yorker article some years ago about efforts by a Scandinavian country (I think it was Norway) to do away with cash entirely. It ran into resistance because of the difficulty of covering the rural areas with cash machines, wi-fi networks, etc. Such problems would probably be worse in the USA.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Satellite cell phones might fix that problem.

    john

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really don't think we will see a completely cash-free society any time soon, remember all of the fuss whenever the idea of getting rid of the penny comes up.

    ReplyDelete
  6. We tend to forget that credit card companies charge a percentage to businesses, not to mention ATM fees from banks. Cash is analog but sometimes I relish it just to be a bastard and deny Visa (or Bank of America) their cut.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I hope cash doesn't become a thing of the past, for numerous reasons, one of which is I LIKE handling it. Also, I'm afraid it would greatly cut down on tips received by service workers in any number of professions. I know first-hand that when someone pays with a credit card, it's much easier to skip the tip without feeling guilty about it.

    SandyK

    ReplyDelete
  8. I recall a speaker at an Ad Age conference, ruminating on the power of advertising to animate the inanimate, took note of Tillie the Teller. When a customer put in his card and got a note on the screen saying "out of order," he kicked the thing and yelled "Bitch."

    On oddity of English usage, the other day in the supermarket the young clerk told me I would have to "swipe" my card because the chip reader was out of order. I thought, not for the first time, that in my youth that meant I would have to steal it.

    Tom

    ReplyDelete