This has been bugging me for a bit

Let me begin by saying that I hate television commercials. Hate them. The only reason we got satellite was because we got the DVR which allows us to skip past them--otherwise, I'd have been hard-pressed to have bothered. (Amy hates them even more than I do.)

But sometimes a commercial grabs my attention in a very unwanted way. The following is just such a commercial.


It's hard to say what bugs me most about the commercial--the utter soullessness of the premise, or the fact that everyone sneers so disdainfully at the customer who dares to use cash instead of the fucking Visa card, and thus mucks up the system. I rebel at this. I spit at it. It's bad enough that we are constantly prodded and poked and told not to be different or to get out of line, but for it to come to this just irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.

And yet, more and more, I find myself carrying less cash these days. The stigma I had against using a check card for small purchases (such as for lunch at what passes for food on campus) has largely disappeared--I don't think twice about pulling out the debit card for a three dollar purchase anymore.

Science fiction authors have long imagined a future where cash was solely used by the underground, criminal class, because it was untraceable, unlike electronic funds. It's been the subject of numerous conspiracy theorists--the web of international financiers who track our every movement by tracing where and how we use our cards. And the potential has always been real.

But I wonder if the youth of today will wind up in a cash-less world? Already, my students use their cards to purchase individual cups of coffee because they don't generally have cash, unless they are living completely independently (i.e. have jobs). Their parents put money in the bank, but it can only be accessed for purchases--no getting a twenty out of the ATM for them. And the soda machines on campus will gladly debit their accounts, so the talent of flattening out a distressed dollar bill--an art only recently necessary--is quickly disappearing.

It bothers me because I enjoy the tactile nature of money. I have, as my absolutely last resort fund, a small cup with Kennedy half-dollars and Eisenhower dollars in it (about thirty bucks worth, I'd guess), and every once in a while, I like to take the coins out and handle them. They're massive pieces, by coin standards, the kind that would cause your pants to hang a bit off kilter if they were in your pocket. They clank in my hands in a way that a debit card could never hope to. They're real. They're more than numbers that seem to magically appear in an account every couple of weeks. They represent, in a way that cards can never replicate, the principle of monetary exchange--I will give you this thing and in return you will give me that thing.

There's a connection lost with a card transaction--the money's just not real in the same way. The fumbling for change, the extra half-second at the register while the cashier decides whether to pull a penny off the side and give you two quarters instead of a quarter, two dimes and four pennies, the chance for asides or unimportant observations seems to disappear when the cashier is just waiting for the receipt to print so he or she can get onto the next cog in the machine, the slob behind you waiting with his or her card out.

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