I’m going to attempt to write the next 600-odd words without slipping into paranoid, tinfoil hat wearing, conspiracy-speak, but I understand that some of you might find what I’m about to say a teensy bit alarmist or melodramatic.
After a few days pottering around the Netherlands, my Missus sent me out for supplies with the daily allocation of holiday Euros. When I reached the supermarket checkout with my trollyfull of essentials something very strange happened: The cashier very politely (and in perfect English) refused to take my money.
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t take Euros”
Momentarily befuddled and wondering if I had any old Guilders from my student days I started to pat my pockets in a fluster.
*sigh* “Credit or debit card payments only, sir”
Not carrying my wallet around with me when travelling, I had to meekly put all my groceries back on the shelf and slink out in shame. This would be bad enough, but the exact same thing happened at the supermarket down the street (and the booze shop).
It seems that the Dutch are making the first steps towards a cashless economy.
Is this the way we want to go? I would be the first to admit that using plastic does have it’s advantages, but I wish the we were more aware* of the potential dangers involved.
Banks & financial institutions control access to credit (fair enough- it’s what they’re supposed to do) and of course, it’s the more marginalised sectors of society who miss out. By forcing them to use credit for daily groceries, or shop in a cash friendly (but pricier) corner shop their household budget will be squeezed further and the social divide widened by another inch or two.
This is exasperated by the headlong rush to contactless payment.
Transactions are made as simple, as quick and as effortless as possible. We are encouraged to use our plastic much more frequently and with far less consideration, even for buying a pint of milk. Spend, spend, spend! Don’t think about it, it’s easy: Just tap your magic card and you can have that latte/cake/porn mag etc. Lets have another consumer debt driven boom (because that worked out so well last time)
All these extra little transactions give the banks access to vast amounts of the 21st Century’s most important commodity: Data.
Every time you tap your card, you are volunteering information concerning your shopping habits, movement, credit status and health to the banks- probably the least trusted institutions on the planet. If you throw your browser history into the mix I think it’s fair to say that they know you better than your friends and relatives.
This is THE BANKS we’re talking about here, the nearest thing Earth 1218 (look it up) has to actual bloody supervillians. Not only have they proven themselves mendacious, uncaring, rapacious bastards: they are also both criminally incompetent and in a mutually beneficial relationship with the current crop of politicians who pretend to run things
I’m not saying there is some Arnim Zola figure behind these algorithms controlling our lives, but with the NSA & GCHQ trying to lay claim to all data encrypted or not, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that any future tyrant (lets call them Theresa May) will have some very juicy information to play with.
I’m not a total luddite and I see that hard cash is already obsolete in many areas: I just wish we were a bit less gung-ho about handing control of our finances over to people who have proven time and again not to have our best interests at heart.
Big brother is watching you (and he controls the purse strings)
* I’m pretty sure we actually are well informed about these things, but sadly, few people could give a tos