The End of Money: The Surgeon General ComethKevin Mellyn |
Last night I was multi-tasking between the important (catching up on Mad Men, having missed Sunday’s broadcast due to Easter) and the mundane (reading a copy of David Wolman’s The End of Money) and experienced an epiphany of sorts: paper currency is as ubiquitous today as smoking cigarettes was in the 1960’s—and may suffer the same fate.
Growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, I never knew an adult male who didn’t smoke, if not cigarettes then a pipe or cigars. Most women smoked as well, often around kids. This was still true when I went to college, though pot was coming to be the smoke of choice in some circles. There were no smokeless areas at Harvard outside the Widener Library stacks.
Today, hardly anybody in America and most of Europe smokes in public. To some degree, draconian legislation pushed by “health and safety” crusaders made smoking extremely inconvenient and expensive. However, I think that smoking mainly fell out of fashion because it simply became uncool—something that nobody who cared about his status among his peers wanted to be seen doing. That stigma vastly reduces the appeal of tobacco, a 19th and 20th century staple of life and a key commodity in world trade.
Wolman’s book isn’t really about money, but about how cash usage is a nasty habit with even nastier side effects. To Wolman cash, and especially bank notes, represent filth, germs, waste, crime and backwardness; above all they are uncool, passé, and primitive.
His year-long quest to lead a cashless life grew out of his personal aversion to paper money, not any fondness for payment cards. That uncoolness alone is the central message and power of the book. If this perception of physical money as uncool becomes, like cell phones, ubiquitous among youth worldwide, paper currency will go the way of Don Draper’s Camels and rye whiskey.
Topics: Payments Strategy