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From great art to minimalism

How cash has obsolesced itself, due to its characteristics, over the course of my growing up to today

Oct. 21, 2019|Felix Kuchar
opinionfelix

Even though digitalization found its way into wide sections of our lives, most of our daily decisions are still made quite instinctively. On the other hand, processes are still complicated and tools are still rudimentary when it comes to money management. This raises the question: ‘Why is this the case?’

Great art for everybody

Coins, bank notes and old securities have always provided attraction. However, for me as a child, the reason therefore lay in something completely different than for most people. I have always been paying attention to details. This is why, as a result of my early interest in art and geometry, I regarded money by these standards rather than as a medium of exchange. Only over the course of my growing up I became aware of these small artworks’ value.

I can still remember when the euro was introduced around the turn of the millennium, the first ‘starter kits’ were already offered about one year before. For 20 Deutsche Mark (DM, former German currency) you received 10 euros at that time.

My grandfather was the first who acquainted me with it and gave me one. For days I opened the small package on every occasion and took a look at the new mintages. However, I would not have wanted to pay with them on any account, since the beautiful, newly shining coins would have been gone then. Maybe I would never hold them in my hands again in such a beautiful and untouched condition.

Shortly afterwards I went to the German savings bank Sparkasse with my mother to open my first current account. The Savings Banks Finance Group (Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe) still has 50 million customers in Germany. This is why you have the feeling that each and every one of us has or at least had an account there at some point. Youthful peccadillo?!

Ever since I paid by ATM card more or less wherever possible. Thus my wallet very rarely contained the small artworks. Meanwhile I even try to actively avoid cash.

An inconvenient medium of exchange

When the daily monetary transactions increased, unfortunately I bestowed less and less consideration upon the little pictures and mintages. I just perceived it as what it is, that is to say a profane means of exchange.

Some might like to carry around a great number of colorful notes and I can understand them. I felt a little more independent, just a trifle better than the others.

However, I changed my attitude on this in the meantime. For a short while, I was happy to have a lot of money in my wallet, but in the end it still felt like a burden. Strangely enough, starting from a certain amount I began worrying. I felt concerned about losing or forgetting my wallet. It is not necessarily more likely when carrying a lot money, but it simply feels like it.

Interestingly enough, I worry considerably less when only carrying my card and not much cash. If I were to lose my wallet, I would only have to block my cards and everything would be fine.

Change

Another reason that speaks against cash is the change. I hated it when my wallets were chock-full with coins and various membership cards until it was so fat it started to bulge my trouser pockets.

Did you ever try to sit on such a small, uncomfortable and hard piece of pressed leather, plastic, metal & paper with half-rounded edges? No? Ah, because you remove it from your trouser pockets before you sit down. Very clever! Does it lie on the table then, where someone might quickly take it when passing by? Or do you put it in your jacket pocket that then hangs down from that side because it is so heavy? Top solution! Maybe it bothers only me, as a visually-oriented person with a subtle affinity for symmetry. However that may be, fat wallets have always annoyed me.

The time needed to change is another irritating side product when it comes to using cash. I recall miscellaneous situations at checkouts or in bars, buses or wherever people are standing in line when my time is wasted involuntarily.

As an avowing minimalist, I have a small bowl at home to regularly free my wallet from cash. That way the next coin collection can restart. Moreover, I have been using wallets that in the first place contain very little storage space for coins and cards, for years. This keeps on forcing me to carry little.

Since credit cards have been equipped with NFC, most cash-free payment processes work just as efficiently as with cash.

ATMs

However, in my opinion the absolutely most inconvenient aspect in dealing with cash is composed of two parts. For one thing a branch or an ATM is required, which enables cash deposits or of course also withdrawals. For another thing search for those localities is implied.

Each ‘ATM search odyssey’ is most fun when you are in a new city or when leaving home with your friends and at least one of them has to go to a bank, because the target location does not allow any card payment which is quite common in Germany. This search would certainly be less extensive if there was a good ATM or branch coverage. Unfortunately, these localities tend to decline in frequency.

As of course everybody banks with the very same institution nowadays, the search quickly ends and nobody has to fear the grossly overpriced fees for withdrawals made by customers of other banks in order to quickly obtain money. 😉

At this point the quote of a friend frequently comes into my mind, who one night stood behind me at an ATM and said: ‘Withdraw all of it, just to be on the safe side!’ And with this opinion he is absolutely right, even though he was just kidding at that moment. It would certainly be more efficient. But also safe and feasible? Fat chance!

As this problem started to annoy me after several involuntary discovery tours of foreign cities, I switched to a direct bank that offers free withdrawal at all ATMs. However, if you have four accounts like me to categorize your finances in a slightly better way, the wallet fills up again at some point, at least when it comes to the plastic part.

Personal data are the oil of the 21st century

When having a look at the most recent developments and venture a forecast, quite a few realize: More efficiency and more convenience lead to a continuous rise in complexity. Hence users are increasingly overchallenged and annoyed. In such situations my inner optimization process screams out and wants to put less mental and organizational work into these processes. ‘Please give me something easier, simpler. Please just give me less to do!’

Almost every retail or online shop and any random website wants to create a customer profile of me. I even know a baker who wants to register my email address and diverse contact details, so that he can serve me better. Here a new loyalty card, there a new voucher - and yet again my wallet is chock-full.

Of course, in today’s increasingly fast-paced world, who does not want to achieve one’s goals in an even more comfortable way?

Well, when glancing over my Excel list to check on which homepages or for which services I am registered, today I come up with about 60 entries. Would you be able to memorize all the login data? However that may be, it does not work so well for me. This is why I try to stem the tide and to deal more consciously with whether or not I allow yet another entry, as this list unfortunately does not speak a minimalist language.

Efficiency and particularly convenience come at a price and that is for sure. However, we do not realize it instantly and usually not in our wallets. Most services are free of charge when it comes to the price, albeit we pay with our user behavior or other personal information. So the business models of these providers are designed for other sources of income. Otherwise it would be indeed difficult to offer such a service. Or to invest time and money in a free app, if the latter would not monetize otherwise.

You get nothing for free these days and this has never been any different throughout the history of mankind. Just because the app is available for free at the first moment, we suddenly believe it to be different this time. However, we do not realize it so quickly, because it simply is a creeping death, culminating in the total loss of our personal freedom of choice.

Geographically, China is only a few thousand kilometers away. The consequences of the transparent citizen are already a reality there. A person can only be evaluated, as the Chinese do with their social credit system, if basic data is available. Personally, I don’t really fancy this future becoming reality here, as well.

Instincts decide which solution catches on

A fundamental insight from neurology is that our brain is designed for maximum energy efficiency. Among others, the latter is one of the main incentives for our human development. We all tend to be mentally lazy or more precisely good ‘energy savers’. As a result, we are either prone to take the line of least resistance or to invest time into the development of something that results in even greater energy savings.

In his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman dealt with the psychology of decision making and came up with an interesting aspect. We make more efforts to maintain our current living situation and to avoid any social decline. However, we make less efforts when it comes to improving our situation.

It has been and continues to be the same

I believe that when things are complex, they quickly become obsolete, as they take too much energy.

When it comes to cash, it’s pretty much the same. Coins and notes, as well as cards and anything physical that bothers us too much in our digital era, will be replaced in the long term. In the end, the most convenient solution will win, as we are all energy savers.

translated by Susanne on Jan. 22, 2020
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