Science and technology have brought us some amazing and indispensable things in the last 30 years. And I'm not just referring to ChatRoulette; online takeaway delivery, and Kim DotCom. Here are my top three:
1.) The Internet: It's changed the way we communicate, dissipate information and find out who that guy was who was in that movie where those African children travelled in a truck while some bloke and a women got stuck in a helicopter (The Gods Must Be Crazy, and if there has ever been a worse film, I haven't seen it.)
2.) Digital photography: Memories are important, and the development of a way to capture every second of every day is more than welcome. My daughter's life, from the second she was born to her recent 7th birthday, could be put together as a flick-book and it's amazing to see. Also, as Demitri Martin eloquently joked, I love digital photography because I like to reminisce instantly (if you've never heard of him use point #1 in my list) to educate yourself on his amazing work).
3.) The inflatable barbecue: Cooking anything on a barbecue? Awesome. Being in the pool with a beer on a hot day? Awesome. The two together? It's simple maths.
External to my suggestions above, there are a few things that have become popular thanks to breakthroughs in technology, which are not so good for society and its behaviour -- mobile email, the prevalence of MDMA and Justin Bieber, for starters.
However, top of this list is cashless transactions. The ability to exchange "money" for goods and services without ever seeing that money leave your bank account is one of the great scourges of our day. I write "money" in inverted commas because, on many occasions, it is not the money of the spender that is being transacted but the money of the bank by way of overdraft or the credit card company.
My Uncle Bill (he is actually my Uncle, but everyone calls him "Uncle", even people meeting him for the first time, such is his authority on life) once laughed at me when I told him I did all my food shopping online. "Why would I do that? I want to know where my money is going," he told me.
That was years ago, and at the time I pitied him, knowing that he was stuck in an antiquated time, not taking advantage of the new and amazing world in which I could order 24 cans of Stella Artois, 4 multi-packs of curry-flavoured Hula Hoops and 10 frozen pizzas online, and have them delivered on a Sunday morning while I was wearing only my underpants.
But, in retrospect, I learned something that day: Always trust Uncle Bill.
By relying on credit cards, debit cards and Paypal to make purchases, we remove the Pain of Paying (Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural, Duke University). We lose something in our decision-making process.
That pang of guilt we feel by having cash in our hand and physically handing it over in exchange for that t-shirt we have wanted for all of 30 seconds. That momentary apprehension we feel when we know we have to buy nappies and Calpol for the baby, as well as saving money for the holiday to Newquay, but we're walking by the pub and, even though we don't have the cash, the local has a debit card facility and we could just sneak in a quick one. The knot in our stomach as we idly surf the web and check on eBay just to kill time, and see that 1984 Sheffield Wednesday Subbuteo set with no bids and it's only £2.50 plus £2 P&P. We have a valid physiological excuse to not feel anything akin to an objective evaluation of what is a good idea and what is a bad idea because we don't see that money leave our pocket and feel the sacrifice that it was a choice between that or something more important.
If you're like me on payday, in your mind you compartmentalise all of your monthly expenditure. A certain amount for bills, a certain amount for savings, and anything that is left over is to treat yourself because, what the hell, you work hard and you deserve it. But with cashless transactions, that all disappears. It's not real.
If you are physically holding £20 in your hand and you are presented with the option of handing that over to the woman in Toys 'R Us for the 1984 Sheffield Wednesday team, or to the man in the supermarket for eggs, milk and bread to feed your family, you are faced with the immediate dilemma that only a sociopath could get wrong. But if you are allowed the freedom to be completely unaware that this movement of money is taking place, and probably have no idea of your current bank balance, it is likely that you can justify the purchase of both. Suddenly, £20 on food becomes £40 on food plus a tiny version of Martin Hodge on a stick.
And so, if anything, I ask you to do three things in order to enhance your life in the long-term:
1.) Embrace the Pain of Paying: If you have something to buy, go to a cash machine, look at your bank balance, and if it's still a good idea, pay in cash. It will help you make better decisions.
2.) Buy an inflatable barbeque, but only if you have access to a private swimming pool or own a really big bath. Budgie-smugglers, a bottle of lager and well-cooked chicken don't go down well at your local public baths.
3.) If you meet my Uncle Bill, listen to him. He's a smart man. He's also surprisingly good with women. You might learn a thing or two.
If enough of us do it, perhaps we, the people, can regain control of a financial world that is spiraling out of control. And cook ribs in the pool.
Originally from Sheffield, Richard Jow can be found on his blog or Twitter. He previously wrote about character traits and quirks when flying, here.
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