The View From Here – A cashless society may lead to a less cohesive society

Tom Henihan

We have grown accustomed to rapid technological advancement and though we never expressly ask for these developments, we tend to accept passively each new disruption they create.

Technological change brings social change, altering the manner and means of how we interact with each other and the world around us.

Yet it is not communities, society in general or even elected governments who are instigating the changes to which we are constantly being forced to conform.

It is the big technology industry and the businesses and bureaucracies that use that technology who are driving these social changes with little accountability or oversight.

Numerous businesses across Canada, especially commercial airlines, restaurants and retail are moving to a no-cash system accepting only digital payments such as debit and credit cards, tap-and-pay and digital wallets.

Those who advocate this new, exclusively digital means of payment see its primary virtue in efficiency and time saving on behalf of both businesses and the customer.

The advocates of a cashless society now consider it superfluous, cumbersome and mundane to take people’s money and offer them change.

The notion of time saving systems and devices is a bottomless pit.

Since the advent of the washing machine and TV dinners, we’ve been relentlessly sold the notion of saving time but to what end; in order to have even busier lives from which we need rescuing with more time-saving systems and devices.

Some years back while visiting Greece, I was in a long, slow-moving line-up in a bank and I began to grumble about how long it was taking.

A person standing in line who overheard admonished me for my “typical North American impatience” pointing out that people in the queue enjoyed having an excuse to take time out of their busy lives to chat to one another while waiting to deal with a teller who would also, no doubt, engage in banter.

Apparently, the concepts of saving one’s time and spending one’s time usefully are not universally shared.

Efficiency often comes at an enormous cost; it can alienate us from one another by removing the social value of doing business.

It reduces our interaction to the perfunctory, the scripted or the dismissive with phrases such as “how may I direct your call,” or the obnoxious “have a nice day.”

Efficiency and so-called convenience serve to impoverish rather than enrich our lives.

Digital payments are already commonplace and perhaps account for the majority of transactions but using cash ought to remain an option.

Some people have expressed concern about privacy, as every transaction they make will be on record.

Putting elaborate conspiracy theories and excessive paranoia aside, in a cashless society, individuals will inevitably be forced to relinquish yet another increment of their privacy and autonomy.

Of greater importance are the implications for people who are already on the margins of society, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill who will simply be further disenfranchised.

In a cashless society, even the simple act of kindness of offering someone on the street money will be impossible as the means to do so will be literally taken out of our hands.

As cash is still legal tender, the government should oblige all businesses to continue to accept it.

Besides, the poor and those who are otherwise marginalized may find it time consuming and inefficient to pay for goods and services in any form other than cash.

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