About a month ago, Paypal came out with an iPhone app that allows users to–you guessed it–pay for items using their phones. It’s fast and easy–simply enter the amount you wish to pay, tap your phone against another user’s, and the money from your PayPal account is transferred into theirs.
As we’ve seen over the last ten years, Apple has done very well for itself. iPods are no longer a rare luxury–at least in many middle to upper-class families. By far, the most popular computer at my school is the MacBook. (During finals, the library becomes a sea of apple-emblazoned laptops.) Despite mockery of its name, the iPad is slated for worldwide release. In fact, the international release date has been delayed because U.S. demands were far greater than Apple anticipated. And Apple users tend to be loyal consumers, so pleased with their products that they’re likely to buy new ones. So, with that in mind, could we be looking at a new trend with this iPhone app? Will we see a decrease in the use of paper money as we see an increase in the population of iPhone users? Only time will tell.
I have to wonder if this change in the way we pay will also change the way we think about the payment itself. In my experience, paying with cash feels different than paying with a credit card or a check. There’s something about holding the money, taking it from my wallet and handing it to someone that feels realer–more tangible. I’m more careful with it. When I pay with a credit card I’m more likely to overspend, since I can’t see the actual money. It’s as if it’s coming from nowhere, or a very far away place. It’s easy to check how much money you have in your wallet. Checking the balance of your bank account is less convenient.
Of course, the iPhone app does show how much is in your PayPal account. Still, as our lives become digitized, the way we think about everyday things changes too. People conduct business, have entire conversations and even date without any real, face-to-face human contact. After years of this, the consequences–good and bad–are clear. Why should our perceptions of the value of money be an exception to the rule?