Monday, September 27, 2010

The Square -- You Are the Banking System

      Have you ever felt like you needed a cash register wherever you go? Me neither. But now that everybody's running their own business and collecting fees from a gig here and a gig there, it might come in handy to have a portable, digital, tiny cash register that lets you collect money from anybody owing you. All they need is a debit card, and all you need is a smart phone.
       My 20-something coworker told me about it, and I said, "Are you serious?", and of course she was. A week later, she had gotten this gitzmo, called the Square, and proceeded to demonstrate on her iPhone, which has apps for every conceivable information-getting activity, but was sorely lacking one for cash-getting activities.

      The device is called the Square and it's made by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey.  The Square is really a cube, made of plastic and measuring less than one cubic inch, and which plugs into the headphone jack of the iPhone, iTouch, iPad or any Android OS phone. On top of the cube is a slit through which your client, benefactor or debtor can slide a debit card and zap! -- money from the account connected to that debit card is now getting transferred to your account. You use the keyboard to type in the amount. A record of the transaction is created and saved, and I'm pretty sure it also can be twitted somewhere, as in "You paid me the $40 you owed me. Thanks."
      Next time I go to dinner with friends and we're splitting the bill, I'm sure someone will pull up one of these. It won't be me, as I don't have a smartphone. If you do, I understand you can request a Square for free, as its maker is giving out one per user. They'll make money in transaction fees, which are paid by you. In other words, somebody means to pay you $50 and you key in that much, but when it's all said and done you get slighlty less than $50, and the Square's maker has the rest. (Don't know exactly how much the transaction fees are, but I imagine not much. The profit is in the volume of use.) Here's the website where you can get one:
     I won't be getting a Square any time soon. Nonetheless, I was just thinking this past weekend, while taking the "L" in Chicago, that the world is becoming increasingly modular. Everything one needs to do, every trajectory one needs to cover, has been broken down into pieces, and those pieces have been broken down into more pieces, and you connect as many or as few as you need to reach your goal. It's like every activity we undertake has undergone engineering scrutiny and creativity, from cooking a meal to traveling in space.
      The Square seems like a new module, a tiny one, connecting you to the banking system. It's still you and the big banking system, you navigating through that big system, but you've got a new direct route that begins on the palm of your hand.
      Modulizing things isn't new. What seems new to me is the ever increasing number of modules for an increasing number of connections to larger systems. We all become like a Me-Central of information and communication, with a gadget here and a device there.  We have the option to rely on the communal system and be part of larger modules -- like just standing in line at the bank and depositing your friend's check -- or to create an individualized one, as in:  "Here, zap your debit card through my Square."
      It brings home to me the notion that nothing is fixed, that there isn't just one route, that the whole can be broken down, parceled and compartmentalized in infinite ways, and so we do. What may be getting harder, in all aspects of life, is fully grasping the whole. We increasingly function like the the human version of a kitchen cabinet system. And at the same time, we're all blending more into the larger systems through our individualized modules, so that the whole is not so different from ourselves.
     When it comes to electronics, the more we individualize, the more we blend.

1 comment:

  1. So there goes the saying "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."