My parents thought it an important milestone towards growing up, being more responsible, etc. I guess I didn't get that memo, as I was hoping for a slingshot at the time.
As I saw the wallet as completely useless, it sat in a drawer for many years gathering dust.
Today, I was buying gas.
I reached into my wallet to pull out a credit card, and — dang!! — the entire contents fell into the Crevice Of No Return: that slim gap between the driver’s seat and the center console. Down on my knees, fishing out small plastic cards, I became seriously exasperated.
And I was once again reminded of how utterly useless a men’s wallet should be in this day and age.
Gentlemen, Check Your Wallets
If your wallet is like mine, here are the contents:
- ID: a Massachusetts driver’s license, my employee ID (photo, name, ID number)
- two dozen plastic cards, each with my name and a set of digits encoded
- paper currency from a few places, depreciating slowly as all currency does
- taxi receipts I haven’t yet expensed — some are actually readable
- outdated pictures of my family — from a distant, sepia-toned era
Physically, all of this makes for a thick package that must be relocated from its traditional location on my hindquarters to another location when I’m sitting for a while: plane rides, longer drives, extended work sessions, etc.
Quite literally, it’s a pain in the rear.
Each of these physical artifacts could (and should!) be stored on a personal digital device, such as my smartphone. But the world has conspired in such a way to make this a near-impossibility in my lifetime.
And I am not alone. I would bet that — even the most annoying digerati among us — still has a collection of physical artifacts that must be kept on one’s person at all times and in all places.
I started thinking — what would it take to get rid of my archaic wallet, and all of its contents?
There’s nothing on that list above that doesn’t already exist as a digital entity, with the possible exception of currency (bitcoins, anyone?).
My phone has a PIN. I use two-factor authentication to access my corporate network, and the secure content container that’s installed. By comparison, my wallet and its contents are physical entities and rarely require any authentication to use.
So don’t make this about “security”, please.
It’s Not Me, It’s You
The challenge, of course, is getting people on the other side of the transaction to accept a digital equivalent of what has been historically a physical entity. They need a clear incentive to change their ways -- and, in so many situations, that's missing ...
Example #1: I walk into my doctor’s office, and present my health insurance ID card. The receptionist takes it from me, laboriously enters its information into an application, and then asks me a few trivial questions to (presumably) help prove it’s really me.
Trust me, I’d be more than happy to fire up an app and have a QR code scanned and enter a PIN.
Example #2: I go to buy gas. I notice that there are magnetic readers for digitized wands on the pumps, but they’re branded and specific to a single vendor.
Won’t work for me, as I prefer to buy gas when and where convenient, and I don’t want to carry around a magnetized stick just for the privilege.
Example #3: I’m on a long road trip. I get pulled over by a friendly officer of the law, and asked to show (a) my drivers license, (b) proof of vehicle registration, and (c) proof of insurance.
Much hilarity ensues.
Example #4: I’m boarding a flight. My QR code (coupled with a physical ID) gets me past security and onto the plane. I notice many people who are still clutching many pieces of paper.
Now, if we can just figure out a way for me to ditch the physical ID …
Example #5: My relationships with my preferred retailers (Amazon et. al. ) are completely digital. There are no physical artifacts associated with me doing business with them, other than the occasional need to dispose of voluminous packaging materials.
It's my money, can't I choose a provider that knows that it's 2014?
You can see the problem — until there’s near-universal acceptance of the digital form, we’ll all be forced to carry around physical artifacts that basically encode digital information. And that change depends on some sort of forcing function.
Yes, if I lose my phone, I’m basically screwed for awhile. But the same thing happens when I lose my wallet — no real difference, except that the re-instantiation of my phone’s contents is infinitely easier than re-instantiating the complete contents of my wallet — assuming I’ve backed things up!
We’ve all been in situations where we haven’t managed our power budget appropriately — spiraling downward: 5%, 4%, 3% towards our impending and inevitable doom.
Better batteries, spare batteries, public charging stations, a web portal for independent access if needed, etc. — not an unworkable problem.
And, yes, I do have to carry a phone around with me everywhere — but we’re already all doing that.
Want my business? Ditch the physical artifacts. And I think most progressive businesses understand that.
It should be common knowledge by now that there are big wins for those companies that provide all-digital relationships; better branding, reduced fraud, less churn, rich data to analyze, meeting consumer preferences, etc. After all, it's 2014.
Don’t make me carry around yet another piece of useless, branded plastic — please.
More difficult are the near-monopolies where there is no competition, or any strong incentive to meet changing consumer needs. Most government entities fits into this category (law enforcement, airport security), as do captive relationships such as with my health care provider, certain financial services, or any situation where switching costs are high.
Obvious measures take years, decades or sometimes generations to implement. Sigh.
I think it’s time to ask for a new wallet for my birthday.
Maybe one that doesn’t let all the cards fall out.
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