Whatever happened to money?
In the 1999 film Entrapment, Sean Connery played the male protagonist Mac. Being an old-school thief, when he and his partner Gin, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, successfully infiltrated a bank vault and he saw that there was a computer terminal instead of gold bars or columns of cold, hard cash waiting to be bagged, he exclaimed: “This is it? Whatever happened to money? I mean where is the good old-fashioned loot?” Thereafter Gin proceeded to digitally transfer billions of dollars from thousands of electronic accounts worldwide into their own account.
That was in 1999. Today, plastic credit cards have all but replaced paper currency, but that too is slowly but steadily changing. A few months back both Google and Paypal invested in Mastercard’s Paypass Near Field Communication (NFC) technology – Google with the Google Wallet, and Paypal with version 3.0 of their Android Paypal app. NFC allows wireless, digital transfer of data from one device to another without them even touching, so long as they are within that near field range. This means that through NFC activated devices you can send pictures from your mobile phone to a laptop, for instance, with just a wave of a hand or a tap of the two devices. What Mastercard’s Paypass does is it uses NFC for digital, cashless payments.
If you have Paypal’s 3.0 app on your Android or Google Wallet on your device, you can pay for transactions in stores that support the technology through your mobile phones, and it’ll be charged to your credit card accounts. Uh-huh. You don’t need your credit cards anymore, just your smartphones.
While quite an exciting development, the adoption rate of the technology has been rather slow this past 2011, where Google Wallet launched in September 19 and Paypal’s 3.0 app launched in November 8. Perhaps the greater digital consumer populace is only starting to feel it out, or perhaps word of its awesomeness has yet to go viral. Whatever it is, it’s sure to change in the next twelve months.
And it’s not just NFC technology. Paypal launched a Facebook social payment app straightforwardly dubbed Send Money in the middle of November this year, which can be used to send payments (or greeting cards with payments) through popular social media site Facebook. So now you just need to log in to your Facebook account like you do probably every day, and when you need to pay someone, you pay them through there. You know the money’s flowing, you just don’t see it anymore.
When industry leaders like Google, Paypal, Mastercard, and even Facebook invests in game-changing developments like NFC, it’s a good bet that it’s the next biggest thing. If not immediately, then somewhere down the line. It’s inevitable. It’s like the next step in terms of finance and economics for humankind: barter turns into gold currency which turns into paper currency which turns into plastic currency which turns into digital currency. But where paper currency was developed for the benefit of large financial institutions and entire nations, digital currency appears to be more for the benefit of the consumer standing in line at the checkout counter.
In an age where everything either turns digital or has a digital counterpart, even money loses its empirical substance and retains only its value. In an age where you handle money without even touching it, what was previously represented in dollar bills and paper is now represented in digital numerals and bytes. While everything points to more ease and convenience for the common folk in the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess what NFC’s cashless, cardless development will lead to in the future.