Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The convenience treadmill

Another interesting kernal from yesterday's Wall Street Journal, this from the industry trends section, page R3, an explanation of new developments in the credit-card industry. American Express is apparently developing an RFID device called "ExpressPay" that would go on your keychain, and that you would wave a tthe appropriate place to be charged for whatever you purchased. Why are they going to this trouble? you might ask. Isn't using a credit card already pretty effortless? But American Express really doesn't care about your convenience per se: The article reports that "the company says ExpressPay users typically spend 20% to 30% more than when using cash." It seems for a minute that AMEX might be interested in customer comfort, but really they are interested in customer spending, naturally. Perhaps the relevant statistic here would be how much more they spend than with ordinary credit cards. But with cards or RFID, the principle is the same as with casino chips. It masks the value of money and extends the fantasy that we can have everything without having to pay any consequences. (The utopian egalitarian dream -- we can all have everything in our abundant, superproductive world -- made private, individual, isolated from the social interdependence that could actually make it possible, with easy credit disguising the true unfairness of income distribution.) The ruse of making easy things easier conceals the degree to which customers are being pressured by the force of technology, by the form that shopping takes itself, to consume more. We are encouraged to confuse convenience with impulsiveness. This, of course, is what is at the bottom of all conveniences; convenience is always a matter of expediting more consumption, not of providing more comfort or leisure. This is why convenience always necessitates more convenience, and things can never be convenient enough.

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