Essays on Technology and Culture

Rumors of the Death of Cash Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

However, the “cashless society” is an idea that people have been batting around since before the ATM even and, as yet, it hasn’t happened; a number of industry analysts and academics don’t think it will (no matter how much safer it may make America, according to a March 2014 article in The Atlantic correlating decreased cash use with decreased crime). Stearns, who studies the sociological implications of payment in society, noted that cash-based interactions still have power in America, such as dropping a coin in homeless person’s cup, adding your tithe to the collection plate at church, or tipping the valet who parks your car.

— “The ATM is Dead. Long Live the ATM” – Smithsonian Magazine

Fascinating, but until I can walk into any bodega, bar, coffee shop, or dollar slice joint in New York City and pay for my stuff with a card (or Apple Pay) the ATM will be a part of my life. The number of places in this city that still deal with cash as the primary, or even only way of making a transaction is staggering. They’ll also be among the last to switch to any sort of digital payments, because there’s no transaction cost to doing business in cash. In that low-margin world, those fees add up.