[Dave Birch] I went to Dublin for a client of ours to give a talk about the future of payments. One of my favourite sites for helping me to think about such things is Paleo Future. It’s a super blog all about past views of the future, if you see what I mean. Not only is it fun, but it contains some tremendously relevant information that ought to help us (by which I mean people trying to understand the relationship between technology and business) improve and refine our own views of the future A great example was the recent posting about a New York Times Magazine advertisement from 24th May 1964 about the “credit card ring”. It’s actually an advertisement for Sheaffer Pens, but it features a ring that projects and American Express card. The gist of the advertisement is that your credit card of the future may not actually be a physical card any more, but you will still need to sign for it. It’s fascinating to reflect on how wrong this is: my credit card still looks like a credit card, but I haven’t signed for it in a couple of years (except in, if I remember correctly, Tunisia and the USA: no, wait, the hotel in Tunisia had an EMV terminal).

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I think I ought to take the time to look this up, but from memory it was the science fiction author Brian Aldiss who pointed out that classic SF novels rarely dealt with money, because their target audience is teenage boys, and money is the one resource they don’t have (or at least didn’t during the Golden Age of Science Fiction). It may be an outdated analysis now, I suppose, but I mention it because I wanted to point out that where money does appear in depictions of the future, it appears in somewhat unimaginative ways. There tends to be a passing reference to a universal credit or Galatic Guinea: “Captain Narg here. Please send a pizza-droid with a pepperoni and double-cheese thick crust”… “Certainly. That will be 7 GGs, please. We will charge it to your account”. There’s never a section on the complexities of managing the same bank rate across the entire galaxy. Given the complexity of managing interest rates across Europe or, for that matter, the United Kingdom, you’d think it might show up from time to time. I once took my sons to a Star Wars film — I’ve never liked Star Wars — and fell asleep in the first few minutes during some interminable dialogue about trade negotiations and alliances. I might have perked up if the characters had been discussing the tightening of Galactic Central Bank rates and its impact on the housing market on Pluto (sub-prime and sub-zero).

When people are asked to imagine the future of payments they tend to think of novel implementations of existing payment instruments rather than new payment instruments, electronic versions of existing institutions rather than new institutions and further centralisation rather than decentralisation, experiment and diversity. I’m not saying that I have any more idea of where things are going than anyone else, but I think I can at least see that there’s going to be more change than taking a MasterCard and putting it inside a personal communications device (let’s call it a phone for argument’s sake). Although that’s not a bad place to begin experimenting.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


1 comment

  1. The exception that proves the rule in the case of SciFi writers tackling monetary policy is Robert A Heinlein, most memorably in Time Enough for Love. RIP RAH.

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