Monday, December 10, 2012

The Mobile Shopping Experience, and the Digital World

I was listening to NPR tonight as I sat at the dinner table having leftover barbecue and baked beans. I wanted to catch some news before settling down for the evening. There was a report on the fiscal cliff, nothing new, an update on the NHL lockout, etc. But about halfway through my baked beans came an ear-catching news piece about mobile shopping. Here's a link to NPR's story:

According to this news report, the days of check-out lines and cash payments is gradually but surely becoming a thing of the past. In many large retail stores, sales associates equipped with specialized iPads with barcode and credit card scanners can now approach an on-the-floor shopper with the means to check them out right where they stand.

Our society is rapidly transforming into an all-digital world. Social life has become social media, entertainment has become an iPhone app, classrooms are becoming video broadcasts, and now cash is becoming an unseen piece of information transferred on airwaves.

While the digital shopping experience has been in existence for a while (virtually all retail stores have an online market), and whereas even credit cards are not exactly new, it's the idea that we are becoming absolutely consumed by the digital world that worries me. What began as a convenient privilege -- being able to swipe a piece of plastic if cash happened not to be on hand -- is no longer an alternative, but a primary way of life. We are forfeiting our proverbial bread for zeroes and ones.

My concern about the digital world is not only with payment methods, but with the implications in the phrase itself. When we talk about the digital world, we are actually making reference to another world. We are creating a new reality...and it seems not to concern us. This reality contains all of our information from the real world; depending on the particular terminal of the digital world, that information could be addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts, personal interests, activity logs, purchases, etc. We leave footprints with every step, and we are tracked by those footprints.

I am 19 years old. A few years ago I created Facebook and Twitter accounts. Got a bank account, got a debit card. I launched myself into the digital world with no hesitation and no worries. It was only a few months ago that I deleted all of my social media accounts and closed my bank account, keeping the money I earn safely protected where I choose. I can write about some of my concerns for the kind of digital society we are becoming, but there are still some aspects that seem to be instinctive, and I can't quite articulate why I feel so skeptical and leery of giving out all my information. Tonight's NPR story about the progression toward mobile (and inadvertently digital) shopping only furthered my concerns. And at the end of it all, I can't help but think logistics: what will happen when the digital world crashes and no one can access their information or money? I can tell you one thing -- I'm steering clear of credit cards, and I'm working to stay in the reality I was born into...not the one we've created.

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