A convenient dystopia

The barmaid looks at me with a mixture of incomprehension and disgust.

She’s holding what looks like a multipurpose communication/healing/stun device from a shit 80s sci-fi. I’m holding a picture of the Queen on a piece of cotton paper. We seem to have got our genres mixed up.

Not to belabour the point, but I like pubs and pubs like me and I’ve done this many times before. Yet it doesn’t seem to be working today. Generally I wave purple sheets at underpaid public house employees and they reward my efforts with murky brown liquids and headaches the likes of which Michael Schumacher would get onto Amnesty about. I go home with a pocket full of 20p coins I’ll never spend and eventually have to cart shamefacedly to a bank to be stared at by people who’ve no idea how someone can have that many 20p coins in their life.

And for my entire adult life, I have treated people who pay by card at the bar as scum. If you can’t be bothered to speed things up for yourself, the bar staff and everyone behind you by getting a few sheets out of the nearest hole in the wall, you are a selfish bastard and you should be forced to drink water for the rest of the evening. From the toilet.

But we have entered the world of contactless payments. It actually takes longer to pay with cash now. Thus, like a chandler setting fire to a light bulb factory, by simply attempting to swap money for goods I am the enemy of progress.

We’re heading towards a cash-free society, as opposed to the free-cash society Corbyn promised us last time out. Eventually it’ll be card-free too as everything moves to our phones, and if you don’t have a futuristic enough handset, don’t worry, Googappleface will give you one for free with the only stipulation you’re never seen in a selfie with their logo in the shot unless you’re grinning inanely like Timmy Mallett.

And there’s no down side to this, so we’re told. Oh, the convenience.

I can think of a few.

Privacy dies, utterly. For the rest of your life, somebody somewhere will be able to find out with little effort where you are, where you’ve been, who’s been there with you, what you’ve bought, what you’ve been doing, what you haven’t been doing and how long to the second you spent that time in the public lavatory at Victoria station. To some people this isn’t an issue – they never go anywhere or do anything they ought not.

Now. You don’t now. Will you always be who you are now? Are you willing to give up the right to change? Today, you can turn your phone off if you want to go ‘off grid’. If you always have to have the thing on to do anything at all, you’ll be on the grid so hard you’ll have an arse like a chess board.

I wonder if, for example, employers might be willing to pay our friends in The Cloud for geo-data on where their staff are. Remember that lovely day last summer, when you left your laptop unlocked, coat on your chair and went and sat in the park for 30 minutes, just to experience a little life outside the cage? But you had your usual lunch break as well. Console yourself that P45s are probably paperless too these days.

Meanwhile, ‘what you’ve bought’ might seem a throwaway concept, but wait a minute. Consider dynamic pricing. Say your card/phone/life provider knows you’re prone to a session. Their people-pinpointing software knows you’ve just walked into a pub. What’s to stop them pricing a pint a couple of quid higher for you, when they know you’ll be having five or six, than your tight-fisted mate who kindly lets you buy him one rum and coke before fucking off to some unspecified, cheaper engagement? Unlikely, you might think. Go look up ‘supermarket surge pricing’ and I’ll wait here.

Then there’s fraud. Consider who you’re trusting with your nebulous payments, swishing your electronics everywhere from shops to pubs to clubs to that Bulgarian brass you’ve a weakness for on the way home. We’re told constantly how we’re surrounded by crooks and thieves determined to relieve us of our identities, yet we’re strolling gaily into an electronic-only world at the half-hearted dangle of the very stringiest carrot of convenience. There are people out there more than happy to switch off Windows XP-controlled life-support machines at hospitals across the land for a ransom of little more than two nuns and a pack mule. For the sake of not having to press a few buttons on an ATM, are you fine with opening up that little extension of yourself you carry about to every thieving little shit both online and off?

Even if we restrict it to cards and not phones, there are still dodgy fuckers eyeing up your every move, I promise you. Currently the limit for contactless payments is £30 a pump, with no cap on the number of uses. More than half of retailers want that limit increased. One in five think it should be £100. What would a crook rather get their hands on – the £60 you took out for a decent night in the pub, or that little rectangular goose laying eggs worth a century a plop?

And God spare us from anyone inclined to Bitcoin. I’m no David Icke, but if you genuinely think that’s been created as an altruistic alternative to real-world currency I’ve some tartan paint here you might be interested in. The people who will benefit from Bitcoin and its offshoots are either Lex Zuckerberg types just one LIKE short of a bathroom with a solid gold shitter, or the ancient landowning gentry who quietly run the world while governments flip pointlessly left and right like Biggs Darklighter. Whatever, the rich get richer while 19 million Yemenis wonder what they did to deserve starvation and I get glared at by bar staff for trying to swap a fiver for a pint.

Well even if I’m the last man furiously flapping my tallow-infused notes at publicans across the land, you can stick your cashless society up your pipe. Off you wander into a convenient dystopia, lamenting the loss of any power you once had to just sit and be, beyond the gaze of the all-seeing eye, and wondering why every tube of Anusol costs more than the last. My wallet will remain a safe haven for Churchill, Smith and Austen, Beckham, Barrymore and Dench, and whoever else they deem worthy of a home directly beneath my backside before they carry me away.

I pledge to pay with cash for everything I plausibly can. I promise to take more time paying for a round than the woman at the Tesco checkout constantly amazed that every time she’s finished bagging her goods someone asks her to get her fucking purse out. I will be the final hold-out stopping banks boosting profits by shutting down every last ATM as I fight my one-man war against incessant plastic payments.

Barclays must be shitting it.

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