Something weird and shocking is going on: money is going out of fashion.
It's true. A sign went up at my local car park forbidding transactions in actual cash. The small print explained that the company from now on only accepted money in non-cash forms "for your convenience".
I HATE that phrase.
Whenever I see it on a corporate sign, it always means the same thing: "We are going to inconvenience you, but we are going to claim the opposite is true, because we believe all our customers are idiots." (Guilty parties include HSBC and Standard Chartered.)
The cashless thing seriously worries me. The Paypal company has just announced it is launching junior accounts to hold pocket money. My own daughter, aged nine, started carrying a card to use on the school vending machine.
STOP! Has anyone thought to ask: is a cashless society a good thing?
I decided to conduct an experiment to answer this question. I determined to spend one entire day without a single coin or banknote in my pockets and see how long I could survive.
The designated day dawned. I work up. I emptied my pockets. I armed myself with one stored-value card and one credit card. I marched out of the house.
Transaction one was paying to get to work.
Hmm. Tricky. I found that smaller vehicles, such as some minibuses, taxis and aged rickshaw men, took cash only. However, big corporate forms of transport such as trains and double-decker buses accepted cards. I managed to get to work, but not in my preferred fashion.
For transaction two, I awarded myself breakfast as a reasonable reward for showing up at the office. (Well, I think that's reasonable, but maybe you'd better not tell my boss.)
Tasty smells came from several roadside stalls, especially from one woman selling sandwiches filled with freshly scrambled eggs and corn beef hash. But she had no card-reader. I had to walk to a cluster of chain-stores, including McDonald's, which accepted plastic payment for plastic food.
Transaction three should have taken place on my way back to the office. A street musician played the erhu beautifully. But he didn't accept credit cards.
Transaction four, lunch, was the same problem as transaction two. I had to bypass a stall selling deep-fried, stuffed chilies, to go to a boring, proper restaurant.
Transaction five bought me something to read on the long ride home. A curb-side news vendor offered me an out-of-date imported magazine at a deep discount. I had to decline and walk for ten minutes until I found a 7-Eleven, where I bought, with a card, a similar magazine, at three times the price!
The final verdict?
Yes, the cashless society is here.
And it stinks.
It prevented me doing business with all the hardworking people who deserved it: the scrambled egg woman, the minibus driver, the taxi driver, the fried chili woman, the street musician and the newspaper vendor.
I was forced to give my transactions only to the big businesses: transport corporations, McDonald's and 7-Eleven.
AND I ended up spending more than usual.
The buyer loses.
The vendor-on-the-street loses.
The faceless corporations win.
Cashless equals heartless.
Incidentally, a lawyer tells me that signs saying "no payments in cash" can be ignored.
"No court would punish a person for honestly paying a bill," he said.
Anyone want to join me to fight this trend?