Is your wallet soon to be a collector’s item? In a report published this morning, Pew surveyed a selection of academics, authors, and other experts, asking them questions about the future of money. Their conclusion: The future of money is digital. And that future might not be, actually, entirely about money. […]
That finding doesn’t just mean bad news for the coin-minters and wallet-makers of the world. It could also mean new possibilities when it comes to financial transactions themselves. A cashless (or, more realistically, a nearly cashless) default of economic exchange could encourage, among us walletless wanderers, a broader conception of what “exchange” means in the first place. Because cash — and, really, money itself — is not merely a vehicle of financial transaction; it is also a cross-cultural paradigm. It has shaped the way we think about exchange as a basic economic proposition: not X for Y, but X for $Y. (Or, you know, for ¥Y or £Y or €Y.)
Money, in other words, has conditioned us to believe that money is pretty much the only legitimate medium of transaction. Through its durability — and, especially, through its universality — the currency paradigm has made it easy to forget what a cultural contingency currency actually is. There are, after all, many other forms of exchange out there, many sophisticated forms of barter and quid pro quo; it’s just that money — cash and currency — has been, for ages, the superior facilitator of those forms. We live in currency-normative culture, if you will, for a reason: Money, as a technology, has acquitted itself wonderfully. It’s efficient, it’s intuitive, it’s relatively user-friendly. And, most importantly, it’s standardized.
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