Phones as currency

Over the past five to 10 years, the importance of mobile phones in our society has increased to an astonishing and rather eerie degree.

Based on a recent survey, it seems that the pace will only grow faster as we enter the near future.

Two out of three experts surveyed by the Pew Internet & American Life Project think that by 2020 most Americans will have completely replaced cash and credit cards with their mobile phones — as if the illusion of a monetary system could get any more imaginary. Even Visa knows the trend is growing. The emerging markets section of Visa’s mobile page highlights the dominance of mobile payments in the third world:

“Nowhere is the power of mobile payments more apparent than in developing economies where mobile penetration outpaces bank card availability. Using existing mobile devices to access and transfer funds, to make payments, to pay bills or to top-up wireless air time, mobile financial services represent a ‘leapfrog’ technology in these under served regions.”

While the convenience of having all your money on one mobile machine is attractive, avoiding the demanding effort of searching through a wallet, the dependency we have on phones now is a problem. We overestimate the stability of technology, especially technology that we don’t understand enough to which we can be so loyal. This is not to mention glitches like the recent Gmail crash that can cause more serious issues than missing an email once we begin relying on Google to make purchases.

Apps like Google Wallet have already made the buy-through-phone option possible for users, held back only by the lack of vendors supported. Needless to say, the name combination — Google and wallet — invokes a sense of paranoia to such a degree that chills can be seen rolling down any privacy-conscious user’s spine,

A normal wallet doesn’t have the drawbacks that Google does — neither does cash. Cash doesn’t need a battery, cash doesn’t glitch and cash doesn’t break just in time for the next upgrade.

Is using our phone to make purchases really that much easier? Technology’s purpose is to improve the quality of life, but advances like these are needless and just add more problems. As the saying goes, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” That being said, maybe these experts are wrong, and it is likely they are. Cash is still king — for now, that is — and phones, which cost money and require data plans, will have a hard time knocking the king off the throne.

The concept of paying for something to pay for something just doesn’t seem logical. Credit cards were once said to replace cash, and so far, have not done so, but have contributed a fair share of trouble themselves.

Still, it’s getting harder and harder to go without some sort of plastic card for transactions over the phone or online. What separates cash from plastic and smartphone apps is what keeps cash on it’s high place — security.

The high cost of smartphones mixed with the public’s security concerns will undoubtedly limit the popularity of phone transactions. The year 2020 seems too near for such a bold prediction. However, that’s not to say that sometime soon the experts will be right.

Maybe some day, smartphone transactions will be more reliable and safer than cash or debit cards, but as of now, I don’t think it is. Advancing with the times is important. I’m not saying technology hasn’t been an extremely helpful and crucial part of our society because it has, but we seem to be in a technological transition era that may have a disastrous outcome if we aren’t careful.

Recently it seems like we’ve been working towards a future shadowed by laziness and a reliability on flawed computers. As we continue being fed new and powerful technology, we should be cautious with every bite.

Lucas Sepulveda is a creative writing and media production junior and may be reached at [email protected].


  • The so-called security of cash is overrated. In terms of physical security, when you have your wallet or purse stolen, your cash is as good as gone. With electronic transactions, security measures can be built in. Sure, it's a hassle to dispute transactions on a stolen card, but trying asking a store for your stolen cash back when the thief has the goods. Also, you can protect your phone with a password, which is like carrying a safe around with you. And as for hackers, I think pickpockets and thefts of opportunity are still far more widespread.

    There is another kind of security overlooked here. Dollars gain and lose value. The value of the twenty in your pocket today is subject to the whims of currency traders. Digital currencies can be indexed to multiple valuations and protected from economic meltdowns. I am sure that Greecians can appreciate that kind of security.

    The neglible risks of downtime and hacking are well worth the added benefits of a digital wallet.

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