Technology with attitude

Cashless crepes

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NPR had an interesting take on the evolving cashless society this morning, telling the story of a small cafe in Washington, D.C. that has stopped taking cash (you’ll have to click on their audio link to hear the story). The downside? Occasionally upset customers. The upside? No need to make change, no need to worry about having large amounts of cash on hand, no need to worry about serious employee theft, easy and accurate accounting of all sales and a lower fee from their electronic-payment processor.

Privacy advocates may note another downside if this becomes universal: every purchase you make will be tracked and recorded. That probably doesn’t bother most people, and for those it may give pause, the convenience may outweigh the intrusion.

Meanwhile, a much-predicted occurrence — cashless vending machines selling everything from snacks to cell phones — may soon be arriving, bringing us one step closer to the Japanese, for whom buying all sorts of things out of vending machines is old hat.

Long a staple of science fiction, our lifetimes may see the disappearance or even criminalization of cash (after all, when every transaction can be electronic, the only purpose of losable, bulky cash becomes transactions that you don’t want recorded). Will that be a triumph or a loss?