Why I think a cashless society is a vulnerable one

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen more of us moving away from using cash and using our our banking cards instead. But what are the consequences of this, asks NICOLA DEPUIS
Why I think a cashless society is a vulnerable one

Card payments accounted for 64% of the total number of payments in 2020, according to Bonkers.ie

BUSKERS are back on the streets of Cork city, filling our ears with wonderful music. Beside each of them is usally a wide-brimmed hat or guitar case, into which grateful patrons can drop a few coins to support the musicians.

Well, that’s if they have coins or physical money in their wallets and pockets.

Recently, during a visit to the city, it was evident that there is a diminished amount of donations in the buskers’ takings. The drive toward a cashless society has meant that fewer people carry cash on them these days, which leaves fewer people with the ability to give money to a busker, or to a person begging on the streets.

I’ve read that buskers and beggers in other countries now often carry card machines with them on which you can tap to donate, but I haven’t seen any of these here yet.

However, I did see one in Cobh Cathedral recently, which left me uneasy. It was’t just the incongruity of this slick plastic financial machine set against the celestial backdrop of this magnificent cathedral that unnerved me; it was the idea of the church, known throughout the ages as a place of sanctuary, no longer providing sanctuary from the digitally monetised world. Those of faith could ask, what would Jesus think?

I’m resistant to the idea of a cashless society. I’m resistant to any way of living that encourages us to rely solely on digital means.

I understand the reasoning that was sold to us during the pandemic - that bank cards are more sanitary and less likely to spread viruses, unlike coins and notes. However, it’s worth knowing that the World Health Organisation sought to clarify comments made by the British press in which they said they were misrepresented .

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told MarketWatch that the “WHO did NOT say banknotes would transmit Covid-19, nor have we issued any warnings or statements about this.”

However, the seed was planted and the shops that remained open began to display signs reading ‘card payment preferred,’ or ‘card only, no cash’.

According to Bonkers.ie, card payments accounted for 64% of the total number of payments in 2020. The onslaught of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns propelled the idea of a cashfree society faster than ever anticipated.

With most businesses shut, Amazon’s sales went through the roof. While many of our beloved local businesses went under, Amazon founder Jess Bezos went over and above us all; using his new found wealth to travel to space, spending $5.5 billion for roughly four minutes of weightlessness in suborbital space. Indeed, the dream of any rational 57-year-old man.

According to the World Food Programme, $5.5 billion could have saved 37.5 million people from starving. Ireland currently has a population of 5.01 million. Let that sink in.

We can’t shop online without a bank card or digitised account. But is this a negative thing? If anything, shopping locally and away from Amazon’s monopoly is the way forward in terms of building our communities, encouraging small businesses, and protecting the environment.

American writer Pearl Buck (1892-1973), recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote: “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them.”

Support of a cashless country means deserting, not only the elderly members of our tribe, but those affected by proximity to wifi, those who choose to live offline, and those who choose to not have bank accounts, or smartphones. It deserts women in abusive relationships who squirrel away notes and coins in order to save enough to leave their abuser. It deserts anyone with memory problems who has difficulty remembering their bank card pin code. And for what? A monetary system that needs undisrupted access to electricity and wifi?

What happens when, while shopping, your phone dies just as you get to the till to buy your groceries, and you’ve no cash on you? What happens when your bank card acts up and refuses to work? This happened to me many times before I gave up having a bank card. The physical money in your pocket will never leave you down in this way, as it is independent of electronic and digital means.

We are regularly hearing reports about the threat of electricity shortages coming this winter. What happens when the card machines don’t work, your nearest bank link is miles away, and you’ve no cash for essentials? This is the situation before us.

And then we have the privacy issue. Are we to believe, in a world where unsavoury revelations are constantly being revealed about the big tech titans such as Facebook and Google, that your data is safe, your confidentiality assured, anytime you use your bankcard or Apple Pay, Google Pay or Fitbit Pay online or offline?

In Restoration Agriculture, Anna Lappe writes: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

If you want the world you live in to be one in which elderly people and those who choose digital-free lives are penalised, a world in which your privacy and data is always at risk, and you’re completely financially dependant on unregulated digital structures that could fall apart, keep spending your money online, and keep using digital payment devices.

However, if you want to cast a vote for a world in which every person’s monetary rights are honoured, communities are rebuilt, and buskers can make a living, come offline and take your money with you. We need more cash, and less cards in the community.

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