I do not own a car. So, when I traveled to Groton, Connecticut this weekend, I rented one. I chose Enterprise, because it’s down the street and I can walk there with my overnight bag. I’m frugal (some would say cheap), so I reserved an economy car at $79/day with no frills. I told them AM radio is fine, since I don’t listen anyway. They stared at me.
Here’s the thing: modern society is a sprawling system of smaller, maze-like systems that interact with each other in specific ways, and if you don’t follow the correct protocol (being a basic unit of the system–aka consumer), you will be disgorged like a ball of cat hair and experience all kinds of problems as you rush about trying to accomplish tasks whose ultimate goal is the maintenance of the system that just disgorged you.
I offer the following example. I tried to pay cash for the rental, but the guy behind the counter regretted to inform me that they don’t accept cash. “We are an electronic company,” he said with more annoyance than regret. I thought about arguing with him about the meaning of “legal tender” but figured it wouldn’t get me into a car any faster. So, I produced a debit card and told him to charge the amount, including the $250 security deposit, to it. He explained to me with even more annoyance that to accept my debit card they would need a copy of a recent utility bill and my pay stub. I laughed out loud.
I had to charge everything to my credit card, but it was near its limit. To use it, I had to make a payment on it from my bank, which required a conference call with the credit card company, my bank, and me. And there was the usual script that each agent had to run through to make sure (1) it was me, (2) I authorized the fund transfer, and (3) I would allow Enterprise to be paid the full amount of the rental, which had increased by this time to include insurance, since I did not want to deal with dings, dents, or flying gravel on the highway. By the time the smoke had cleared, I drove away in an SUV. This was after insisting that they not put me in a Dodge Ram Van the size of a food truck. The SUV was black. Most cars nowadays are either silver or black, which shows how creative manufacturers have gotten, but that’s another story.
We have finally arrived at a cashless society. This change must have happened within the past few years, because it wasn’t so long ago that cabs, grocery stores, and even restaurants dealt only in cash. I know in Silicon Valley you can pay for French fries with a MasterCard, but New York is different. It is a tipping culture, and you can’t tip the coat check girl in bitcoin, not yet. Enterprise may think of itself as progressive, but the reality is more nuanced.
While in the waiting room, listening to the same guy order buffalo wings for lunch, it occurred to me that there are two problems associated with this change to a cashless society.
The first is that it widens the gap between the haves and have-nots. If you do not have credit or are not embedded in a system within the system (e.g., a company or institution), you will be left to fend for yourself and, quite possibly, find yourself unable to provide for necessities like transportation, housing, and food. At least two potential customers were turned away for this reason by the time the wings arrived.
The second is that, to the degree that you are protected by the system, you will become dependent upon it. This results in less initiative, less motivation, and less entrepreneurial spirit, which is not good for anybody. Often, the haves are no more in control of their lives than the have-nots. In fact, they may be more enslaved, because of their reliance on Mother Matrix. For example, the same buffalo wings man overcharged me on the daily rate, and I hadn’t even noticed.
Now, you might tell me to quit my whining and pay off the credit card, which would be sound advice. Still, that’s treating symptoms rather than the problem. It also won’t help you when they take the chip out of the card and implant it behind your ear, which is just a matter of time. Welcome to the cashless society.
Like fiction? Check out the two-volume “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”