Transactions are as old as life itself. In the beginning they were mostly grotesque, and often brutal. Thankfully humans evolved beyond this kind of primitive exchange and we invented currency. And, while the role of currency in humanity is contestable, it is nonetheless an inextricable element of commerce, society, and life. Currency is the reason why you don’t have to grow, harvest, and process the plants you eat. It’s also the reason why you don’t have to raise, slaughter, and butcher the meat that you eat. Currency is also the reason why you can get a computer, and drive a car. It has created a network on Earth that is tied to nearly all human activity. The transaction of currency is a fundamental of contemporary life. Over the ages currency has taken on different forms from bricks of salt, cowry shells, coins of precious metal, printed paper money, banknotes, and more recently credit cards, and bitcoins. All of these changes in currency’s forms have coincided with changes in society and culture.
Throughout time changes in currency manifest as convenience, and security. Here we find an abstract reflection of what it means to be alive in the times when a particular currency is used. In these times it would never make sense to pay for $100 worth of groceries with a giant brick of salt. How would that work? How would you carry that salt around, and how would you avoid having salt scattered throughout your clothes, your hair, your car, your pets, and your home? You would likely have to keep some kind of closet or shed to store all your salt in. Cash and credit cards work way better than salt, but as technology evolves even even these de-facto forms of payment fall out of sync with our lives.
Starting in October 2015 the United States will begin switching over to a new type of credit/ debit card transaction system called EMV*. These payment cards are present in Europe, and around the world–and even here in the US. You might even have one. They are equipped with a microchip that greatly increases the security of your card, making fraud much more difficult, and making you more safe. In this day and age as more and more people have access to more technology, credit card fraud has continued to rise and reached a staggering $11.2 billion in 2012. The US accounted for an astonishing, though perhaps not surprising, 47% of the total: that’s $5.26 billion**, enough money to change a lot of lives. The introduction of these new cards promises to greatly reduce that cost, although for consumers this security feature will have less of an impact since the card companies, or the merchant are responsible for the costs.
As the gradual switch to EMV has been coming into play, there’s one feature that you may have already noticed: Tap to Pay. Many businesses and point of sale terminals are already equipped to accept Tap to Pay, and more are added every day. Tap to Pay allows transactions to be facilitated through near field communication, which is basically a radio signal that can only travel about 4 inches. While it may seem relatively banal, it’s actually a huge jump in convenience that drastically reduces the amount of steps that it takes to complete a purchase. Just think about how many of your purchases take place under the premise of convenience entirely. Whenever the expenditure of time is an important part of the transaction tap to pay changes the experience.
Imagine you’re in a hurry trying to catch a train to work, or running late to meet someone important who is pissed off at you (because of course that’s when you’re running late). You’re on your way and slightly panicked, in that in-between space where every second matters. You can still make it if all the cards fall into place and you don’t slip up, or you could wind up looking like a real asshole. And then you start to get dizzy and you realize you didn’t drink any water today, not one drop. Really crappy feeling, right? Luckily right then you come up to a convenience store, and there’s no line inside. You grab the first water you see, and go to pay, and all you have to do is tap your wrist, and then you’re gone. Back out the door, certain to be on time because you’re good today.
This new method for payments is a direct reflection of the power of the technology that shapes our lives. While there’s no shortage of odd products that claim to “save us time”, this is one instance where technology is really streamlining a fairly jagged process. There are less moving parts, less points of contact, and less things to do. It’s basically one step closer to walking in and picking up what you need and walking out and getting a purchase confirmation via email without doing anything. The future comes one step at a time, but this next one is a leap.