Less is More
Every so often a paradigm shift in technology occurs that is so profound the only way that we, as a society, can describe it is in relativity to what has been replaced. ‘More’ often than not, the suffix that we use to refer to this relativity is ‘less’.
In the early days of the 20th Century, the first motorised vehicles took to the streets. They were not originally called ‘cars’, rather they were referred to as ‘Horse-less carriages’. People understood little of the combustion that propelled them, and all anyone cared about was that these new vehicles would take them from one place to another. So for them, they were carriages, just without horses.
Around two decades later in the 1920’s, Marconi’s discovery of radio waves set in motion the path towards the ‘Wireless’. People knew about the Telegram as a means of sending simple information via wire. But, this new technology could transfer information without wires; hence the ‘wireless’. This name stuck until it became known by its more scientific name: the radio. Fast forward 70 years and the first ‘Cordless’ phone was invented. We had become so used to a phone needing wires, that the only way to describe a phone without such was as ‘Cordless’. 30 years later we all have supercomputers in our pockets that we still refer to as ‘phones’.
Today, significant innovation is coming to payments. From the early days of bartering to the adoption of the first currencies, we are now ushering in a new technology that totally digitises currency into something that no longer exists physically in our pockets. Whether it be centralised digital transactions (like a typical debit card transaction we conduct every day) or decentralised transactions (such as a bitcoin transfer), we are now applying the catch-all of ‘cashless’ payments to all of these digital transactions. The innovation in payments is so profound that we still cannot come to terms with what payments are now. We can only refer to them with reference to the past that we are comfortable with – I know cash transactions, therefore I am also comfortable with ‘cashless’ transactions.
But, just as the Radio is more than ‘wireless’ and cars are more than ‘horse-less carriages’, payments today are much more than ‘cashless’. To refer to them by referencing the past, takes away from the possibilities these digital payments will offer us in the future.
Of course, the transition from cash to fully digital transactions is not happening at the same pace around the world. In the future, we may even see some countries skip right past the hybrid stage we are currently experiencing in the west to a direct digital payment system. There will, as there always are, be those that lament the innovation and yearn for the old days of hard cash. Nonetheless, if we are to learn anything of innovation, we must recognise it cannot be stopped when it is in society's interest - hence the lack of telegrams and horses these days.
Digital payments can integrate with all forms of our life to make payments smoother, more connected, and ultimately: invisible. Moreover, we are heading for a world in which we focus less on the payment and more on the experience surrounding the payment–as anyone who has ever waited a long time for a bill in a restaurant can attest to as a good move. Less will be more. More connection, more data, more intelligence and more time to do what you want, for less time spent on manual actions like returning an oversized jumper or buying takeaway in person.
When it comes to payments, the world is going ‘cashless’, and less certainly is more.