The advancements we all benefit from technology and the internet are really beyond scope and imagination. The pace of its acceleration and amplitude continues to astound as more markets, businesses, power structures and veils of control continue to crumble in its wake. Disintermediation of industries continue and as one looks forward, as Wikibrands has, there are up to $34 trillion dollars on the table left to be disrupted. Just like no one can really conceptualize global warming as a thing it is nearly impossible to conceptualize $34 trillion dollars. The abstract nature of just that begs another question though. Are we losing the ability to conceptualize transactions altogether?
A favorite artist of mine, especially when writing, is David Wenngren. His band, Library Tapes, is an interesting blend of piano, strings and industrial noise, drawing to light the contradiction of our desires of tranquility in an age of constant progression. Of all his work there was one song that always resonated with my for some reason. It was Repor from Höstluft which you can listen to below:
The quiet cranking of the old cash register in the background conjures images and emotions of our cash transactions of old. The nominal gesture of collecting money, as a representation of your or someone else’s efforts, symbolized an exchange of value. It was tactile, with weight, occasionally sound, and definitely provoked a state of thoughtfulness in regards to the exchange value of what was being bought. In fact, we would often pause to take a mental note of the transaction as the sound of the matrix printer symbolized its completion. It was was an exchange with purpose, with meaning. Today this no longer exists. Our transactions today are silent and frictionless. Moreover, our transactions today are so efficient that we are beginning to lose the referential benefit of its existence because of its form.
Think about it this way. By removing the sensory stimulus from our environment our reactions to the implications become dulled. We don’t emotionally register events as significant. It is all just data on servers re-registering values in columns and rows in the sky. It carries nothing but the symbolic representation of value. In fact, money today has become totally abstract and it barely even serves its duty as a reference to the relational value of goods. Furthermore, because of the advent of credit cards, the referential value that does exists is totally delayed. It’s as if transactions are purely abstract!
Another facet that goes beyond the silence of transactions is the centrality of it. With technological advances we are now able to transact in more places than ever before. In fact, we are now able to turn non transactional devices, like phones, into both the cash AND the cash register. All without the sensory registration of the transaction!
We are also in a time where transactions are occurring without ANY human intervention at all. Financial markets operate with next to no human involvement, direct debit campaigns rack up transactions without our touch, and data charges flow dollars per byte without our input. This level of transactional abstraction, especially in a digital age which is quickly moving into the machine-to-machine management space, may either disassociate us completely from transactions where rules-based decisions are made in the abstract or it will over lever us to a state where we’ll need a full economic reset. Either way something as simple as the death of paper flowing through a dot matrix printer is symbolic in the way it signals the end of the traditional transaction.
The silence of our transactions, while seemingly a trite idea, is yet another way that we, as a society, are pulling away through technology from the internal registration of explicit human behaviour. As we continue to place our faith in technology as a benevolent force we need to occasionally take pause to understand its human implications and what we lose in the inefficient. Because it is in the inefficient that we are able to take pause, as humans, and think about the implications of the actions we are about to take. I don’t know about you but today I am longing for something more than the dull sound of a click in the sky.
Image sourced from here: http://www.cashregistergroup.com/acatalog/info_samsung_er_700.html