Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2023/ Ecommerce Friction

Ecommerce Friction

When it comes to buying things on the Internet, I am reminded of the Amish. Lots of Amish (and Mennonite) sects prohibit their congregations from owning cars, but sometimes Amish people want to get around, and some of those Amish people have friends who are outside the faith. So sometimes those outsiders give the Amish people rides. The Amish still get around in cars, but they still abide by the rule of not having cars themselves.

I am like that with e-commerce. I have no financial self-control, so I have a bank account, and can write cheques, and take out a certain amount of cash each month, but that's it. I don't have a credit card or a debit card or a Paypal account. That gets me in trouble sometimes but given how freely I waste money on stupid things, I feel it is for the best that it all my currency transactions involve some friction. It is easy to spend cash, but I only have a certain amount of cash each month, and if I blow that budget I have to go to the bank in shame. Writing a cheque takes time and effort that I can use to consider whether I really want to spend that money.

The problem, of course, is that I am a great big hypocrite who wants to buy things on the Internet sometimes. My approach thus far has been that of an Amish person cadging rides from outsiders: I cajole people in my life to use THEIR credit cards to buy me things, and then pay them by cheque.

There are a lot of ways in which this makes me a big fat hypocrite. If I really want to participate in modern commerce then I should participate in modern commerce. Why should I expect the other people in my life to to possess credit/debit cards responsibly when I am incapable of doing so? It is no wonder I have so few friends. On top of everything else, people can sense that I will ask them to buy things for me.

On the other hand, being a big fat hypocrite is better for my bank account, because it creates more friction when it comes to Internet purchases. I have to think carefully about whether I really want the thing in question, and then I have to Step Five that decision by admitting my crass desires to another person so they can put in the order. I still buy a lot of stupid things (and perhaps those purchases can be used to blackmail me later) but trust me that without those restraints I would buy a lot of stuff that is even stupider. I also don't like to cadge from the people in my life constantly, so I will usually wait weeks or months between Internet orders. That is good for my bank account too. In this way, maybe Amish people cadging rides also restrains their use of unnecessary rides.

But even now I feel my defenses wavering. There is an event coming up where the vendors have gone completely cashless, and for reasons I will not disclose here I would feel really stupid attempting to piggyback purchases on others. So I can choose to skip the event, or attend but not get anything, or turn to some other form of payment. I am wondering whether a prepaid, limited credit card may be the way to go. Usually these are not accepted as substitutes for real credit cards for Internet payments, but maybe they would work here? I do not even know what is involved in getting one of these, and whether I would have to hand over personally-identifiable information to credit card companies and unaccountable credit bureaus to use this form of payment. (Yes: being obstinate about refusing to have a credit card hurts my credit rating, which itself an ethically-questionable construct.)

There are some rumours that Canada might adopt a digital currency. Maybe this would be good for lots of people, but I could see it being catastrophic for me. I prefer having friction between me and my purchases. In contrast, Internet merchants (and other merchants, too, I guess) are employing the smartest people in the world to eliminate such frictions, and make it as easy as possible for people like me to pay for things as often as possible. A digital currency sounds like a great way to give those Internet merchants the upper hand.

Really what I wish is that people still accepted cash, but the only people who like cash are me and criminals, and even criminals prefer Bitcoin. Cash is difficult to trace, which means it is tough to put together psychological profiles on consumers that companies can exploit. For this reason alone I feel that if cash was introduced as a payment mechanism today it would be outlawed. ("What if criminals used cash to buy things??") More and more in-person merchants are turning away from cash, and the pandemic accelerated this trend. We are hearing scare stories about how cash is unhygienic and inefficient and only backwards dinosaurs would want to use it and everybody else uses debit these days so why can't you? As I have documented before, I cannot even use cash to purchase a passport. That's right: I cannot use Canadian government-issued currency to buy a Canadian government-issued document. It is only a matter of time before I am prohibited from getting some basic necessity because I want friction in my financial transactions.