What does NPR have against our currency?
First, they made the case for killing the penny. Now, a debate has swept the airwaves at NPR and Planet Money over whether it's time to do away with the dollar bill. Apparently, there's a movement afoot to replace the bill with a dollar coin, and the Coin vs. Bill Battle is shaping up to be pretty nasty. As with most things these days, you can blame politics: The coin supporters tend to come from states that produce the coins, and the dollar bill folks … well, you can guess the rest.
The point might be moot, though. If the folks at Pew Internet are correct, we're not going to need either of them.
In a report titled “The Future of Money: Smartphone Swiping in the Mobile Age,” Pew researchers found that “a majority of respondents supported the scenario that by 2020 most people will have embraced and fully adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards.”
Let's define our terms: “Smart-device swiping” might include things like near-field communication and radio-frequency identification (where payments can be made simply by waving your smartphone near the bar code of a product) or smartphone credit card readers like the Square and GoPayment.
Science fiction? Hardly. The mobile cupcake truck that visits our neighborhood each week uses the Square to take credit card payments. Believe me — I'm a regular there. And as for NFC and RFID, they're de rigueur in many places overseas and are becoming more popular stateside as well.
Critics point to concerns like security, standarization and the fact that many people still do not use smartphones as major speedbumps on the road to widespread mobile payments.
And there are other concerns too, like “electronic pickpocketing” — the ability to steal your credit card information from a distance, while your card is tucked away in your wallet our purse. The threat is real, though some argue that it's a bit overblown.
Either way, technology won't be denied — especially if it makes life easier for the average consumer, security be damned.
Just ask the brick-and-mortar retailers. Consumers have gained a huge bargaining advantage by bringing their smartphones to the mall and using them to compare prices. If your store is more expensive than a competitor's, the consumer will let you know it — and use that knowledge to get a better deal. According to NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” even renowned customer-service superstars like Nordstrom are starting to install iPads and laptops in their stores to allow consumers to check competitors' websites while they shop.
Mobile technology has given consumers more power — and less need for actual cash — than ever.
And if cash is doomed, what's next?
Change stops for no one, does it? Our only hope is to outlearn it.