A Penny for Your Thoughts No Cash? Just Text it to Me

For all those people prone to losing their cell phones, I have some bad news. The cashless society is coming and it will all be tied to your phone.

According to a study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 65 percent of Internet users and tech experts believe that by the year 2020, most people will have adopted the “mobile wallet” as the way they handle day to day transactions that are typically handled via cash, credit or debit cards.

The good news is that leaving your debit card at home won’t make a difference anymore, but leaving your phone home will.

One of the more popular transaction apps, Google Wallet, is paving the way for this transformation, and the writing is already on the wall, even if you don’t believe the Pew study. According to comScore, a digital marketing intelligence research company, 38 percent of smartphone owners had used their mobile phones to make a purchase of some kind. This coincides with the results of an earlier Pew study that found one-third of all smartphone owners use mobile banking apps on a regular basis.

Of course, what this means for privacy, security and identity theft fears is that in the future, if you lose your cell phone, you’re screwed. Virtually, that is.

Now, I know from my experience with tech trends that one new tech milestone always serves to spawn another one, so we should expect a wide range of quadruple-encrypted smartphone security apps to emerge as the mobile wallet starts opening around the world. In fact, these advances have been emerging for years on the other side of the world. As we in the West marvel at Google Wallet and get a kick out of buying concert tickets with our smartphones, China has already paved the way for a world that might eventually use their smartphones to pay for, well, everything.

In China, the tech has been driven by the lack of infrastructure. Villages and cities are not like the urban areas and suburban areas of the United States, all pushed up next to each other geographically. China’s provinces are spread out across a vast land mass, so the Chinese never really bothered building vast arrays of fiber optic cable or phone lines. The distance between cities — and the vast expanse of nothing in between them — made it almost senseless to try. However, as soon as cell phone technology emerged, the Chinese found it very cost effective to create a network of cell towers and routing stations that literally connected the country in a wireless manner that would seem like time travel to the future for those of us in the U.S.

In China, people pay everything through their cell phone bills — groceries, gas, utilities, bank loans, restaurant tabs — everything. This is their way of life. A cell phone in China is not inexpensive, either. It still costs roughly $150 US, which is what the average worker in China makes in a month. With something that cost prohibitive, it would seem like a grand leap of faith to expect Chinese citizens to buy a phone. It would be like our smartphones costing thousands of dollars, instead of next to nothing, depending on our call and data plans. For them, the cell phone is not a luxury — it is a necessity of life.

So, stand by and set your phone passwords to maximum. The mobile wallet is coming to a smartphone near you. Now all we have to do is figure out how not to leave it on the coffee table when we leave the house. Maybe we should attach it to our car keys.

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