I, Robot, the 2004 generally forgettable Will Smith science fiction movie is about, well sure, robots. (Robots and Will Smith, but let’s try to focus here.)
One scene in the movie at the time of its release, however, was an eye opener. When you’d watch it in the theater people would have that low-level guffaw reaction to it. You’d hear it. In the scene, the Smith character and another character met in a bar for beers. They had their drinks and the plot-moving-forward conversation and Smith got up to leave. With the words “I got this” he waved his phone over where the drinks were severed, apparently paying for them. Gasp, the future.
And again, it was something of a “Wow, the future is going to be different” reaction to the set-in-2035 movie. People would, the movie asserted, pay for things with their phones.
When the Great Pandemic of 2020 started my wife and I were very careful. We’re both not kids, and I (as has been discussed in this space before) have a less-than-optimum heart. We went out of our way to be careful.
So we’ll start here: I haven’t been in a big-box store since this thing started, and don’t see myself going in one any time soon. Why should I? All those people, all those breath droplets, and we can just order from our phone and then swing by and pick it up. We do this for all manner of things, the weekly grocery run not in the least.
But of course in late April the process of Arkansas opening back up began and I had to get out. Places to be, people to meet, stories to write, things to report. Big ol’ world out there, Great Pandemic or otherwise, and the kid had places to be.
When you have places to be and you’re the kid (work with me here) you stop at various places for, what, tanks to gas, cups of coffee, sandwiches. The joke is the front seat of the car is a combination kitchen/office and, well, it’s a funny joke because it’s true.
During the down time the various apps on the phone were tuned up, and accounts, often as not already in place with some vendors were opened up to other vendors, vendors which sold gas, or food, or the things one gets while living the office/kitchen bucket seat life.
As a result of this, I haven’t had my wallet out of my pocket in months. In fact, I’ve had the same $20 bill in the thing since the Great Pandemic started. Why not? I never touch the thing. I get to the counter, having already paid for the gas, get the coffee/drink and whatever might be going with it, wave my phone over the terminal and I’m on my way.
It’s 2020 and I’m living the Will-Smith-in-a-movie lifestyle.
Sure, I was worried about security. In fact I’ve probably read more police reports about debit card info being hacked than most people. It turns out the pay-by-phone is more secure than a typical bank card. The process uses a one-time hash (nerd translation: A one time bi-directional encryption) for each transaction. So even if someone is able to intercept one’s transaction, the information would not be good for a second use, unlike card scanner which read and strip reusable info from bank cards.
Which was an issue at gas pumps, you may recall. Criminals would put readers on there, get your card info when you paid at the pump and use that to get money from your account. Not any more: I show up at the pump, open the phone, open the app for the gas station I’m at (this happens a lot) which tells me what gas station I’m at, I tell it what pump I’m at and, one time hash, pay for my gas. Receipt shows up on the phone. No paper, no cash, and the wallet stays in my pocket. And, bonus round, it’s more secure than it was in the past.
Drawbacks? Well, if I was laundering money it might be a problem, easier to throw cash down in those circumstances, but otherwise a secure in-out and the wallet never sees the light of day.
It’s the future, and in it the wallet stays in the pocket.