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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Make up money 

I'm posting a picture of make-up. In fact I'm posting two pictures of make-up - and that might just be a first for this blog.  It's a photograph of what my mother would call a powder compact, or perhaps more simply a compact. I asked my daughter what she called it. Make-up, she said. It's a pleasingly shaped hinged box in black plastic, which snaps closed with a satisfying 'pock', and as you can see there's a delicate flower-like design in gold on the front. By contrast my mother's were weighty metallic things with an enamal finish. Enough to lend some substance to your handbag, I should imagine. But this is make-up with a difference. It's money. Or to be a bit more accurate it's got purchasing power......just a prototype, I know, but it works. And it may well be the shape of things to come. Probably the next big thing, if indeed something so small can be called big. And here's where the second picture comes in. You see you flip it over, and there's the evidence, in the Mastercard contactless chip which is embedded in the plastic case. Neat. And that allows you to buy things with make-up, and it's what I call new. It made me think of the slow demise of currency. Remember, I'm old enough to
remember decimalisation. When all of a sudden there were 100 shiny new pennies to a pound compared to twelve shillings, or whatever awkward amount we had before. And now it's all turning into plastic. Spending is gradually becoming more abstract, several steps away from the real thing. No wonder so many people get into debt! Of course that idea of coins  as the 'real thing' is actually a strange convergence of the material and the abstract. Maybe currency only has any real meaning at the point of transaction. And financial transaction itself is built on a sort of tacit social contract. Now I'm sure economists have better ways of talking about this, but the one thing I'm sure of is that the money business is looking very different as mobile digital technology takes hold. Take the fascinating emergence of mobile exchanges in Kenya. Read about it here, if you haven't caught the story - and this isn't about smartphones, we're talking basic models, here. What a wonderful illustration of the ways in which social groups take up the affordances of mobile technology and make it work for them to fulfil their needs. In fact, I can see myself doing the Kenya thing rather than carrying around make-up (or cufflinks, apparently).

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