E-cash or bust

Ditching the wallet (iStock)France is jumping on the e-cash bandwagon, or train wagon, as it were.

This week Wired blogger Charlie Sorrel profiles the new ticketing experiment from France’s railway company, SNCF. The idea to allow consumers to recharge their tickets using non-cash devices is not new. Estonia has had technology that enables consumers to buy movie tickets, pay parking tickets, and generally organize their life via their mobile phone for years. But the French train co.’s idea innovative in it’s delivery: Hip looking USB sticks that connect commuters to a payment page on their PCs where they can add money to their balance.

What this example brings up for me (other than my shameless and desperate longing to return to France) is how ready I am to have these kinds of e-cash technology in the United States. I am so very tired of getting cash from the ATM, using my credit card, pulling it out, remembering the numbers and passcode, and endlessly worrying about if my debit card puts me at risk. I just want to be able to run my mobile phone across a screen, or hold it up to a pad, or carry around a neat little usb stick and pay for things. (Man, isn’t emerging technology making us lazy!)

Obviously the financial implications of moving toward a cashless society have to be dealt with. Security and privacy issues also need to be managed–as Sorrel points out, “companies need to stop getting greedy about the wealth of marketing information provided from tracking people’s purchases. E-cash needs to be truly anonymous.”

If we can work out something that works for companies and private individuals alike in the U.S., there are so many opportunities to boost buying at the point of influence. For example, if I wanted to buy the flip video (my latest obsession), and I see an ad or see it in a store, I could wave my phone around a screen and enter a little passcode for additional security, and I’m done with the sale. It’s charged to my account and I never have to take out my wallet or charge card.

As a Library House blog notes however, undoubtedly, even the mobile phone and USB answers to cash alternatives will seem clunky in the near future. A German company called Ident technology is working on the Minority Report technology of the future–where our very fingers could start our cars, turn on our laptops and buy our groceries. Uh oh, now I am excited…and freaked out. Let’s just go back to that sweet little USB stick, yeah, the USB stick is just fine for now.