Society has gone from bartering to trading with gold, then cash, then checks, credit cards, debit cards, and now digital transactions. The idea of money is now less physical and largely just a construct that goes from one entity to another in exchange for goods and services. Charlie Warzel wrote an extensive article on the future of financial transactions in the cashless society, after he spent a month using digital transactions only. There are myriad ways to pay digitally: Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Android Pay, Square Cash, M-Pesa, and apps that only work at certain retailers. There are so many that it’s a real pain for vendors to keep up, although history tells us that some will rise above others and become the default way to pay.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons not to trust these new forms of payment. Anyone who’s been mugged or lost a wallet knows cash is far from perfect, but this constellation of new digital payment products introduces a whole new category and scale of ways to get robbed, hacked, scammed, and screwed. Venmo — the social payment service that’s now transferring over $1 billion per month — may, in some ways, be the truest glimpse at a mobile payment future, but it’s not exactly entirely secure. Smartphones can be as easily lost and stolen as wallets, but they’re also eminently breakable, orders of magnitude more expensive, and obsolete after two or three years. And the payment-apps landscape is still such that living cashlessly in 2016 means entering your credit card information or routing number into dozens of stand-alone apps, some of which look as if they’ve been built overnight by a high school computer science class.
One way to get around the physical stealing or breakage of phones is to have a chip implanted in his hand to use for transactions, which is what Warzel ultimately did. This is not common, and he had to make some upper-level arrangements to get it to work.
What could possibly go wrong? I can think of a few drawbacks to paying with an embedded chip.
1. How does one actually give permission for such a transaction? Like credit card skimmers, you can imagine someone being able to draw money from your account (and body) without you even knowing it.
2. How much personal information can be stored on a a chip, and how can outside entities (government, advertisers, information traders, scammers) access this? Would someone be able to find out where you live just by being near you?
3. The more removed from the physical act of financial transactions we are, the easier it is to spend it all. Using actual cash keeps you aware of how much you are spending and how much is left.
4. You would no longer have the freedom to deliberately leave your wallet at home.
5. Of course, there is Revelation 13:16-17. That’s over two billion people who will never get aboard with implanted chips.
6. It’s a lot of hassle for both small businesses and for people who just plain don’t have enough money. Wouldn’t it be better for the future to be the Star Trek model?
I’m sure you can think of other reservations, not the least is the pain involved. While the hook is Warzel’s chip implant, the article has a lot to say about the current state of flux in our digital transaction system. Read the whole thing at Buzzfeed.
(Image credit: Jared Harrell/BuzzFeed News)