It’s interesting to consider the ways in which the computer and the Internet have changed our lives. Tasks that once required visiting certain locations and interacting with specific people, such as booking a holiday or accessing your bank account can now be performed online. Often when you do go somewhere to talk to an assistant they end up performing the task online in the same way you could have done yourself.
Online banking intrigues me greatly. We’ve almost lost the need for real currency. I get paid by check, which goes straight into my bank account. I then access my bank account using the Internet and transfer some money over to my savings account, which is at a different bank to my regular account. If I ever need money from my savings account I log in and transfer it back to my main account. I have never given any ‘real’ money to this bank, nor have I ever received any from them. The majority of my purchases these days are made using Eftpos. I hardly ever actually have cold, hard, real cash on me. Basically we purchase things with data these days. Numbers flit all over the place, being subtracted and added from one variable to another. Presumably there is still real money somewhere being couriered between banks but I generally never see it. It makes me wonder how long it will be until we actually don’t technically have money.
The stock market similarly intrigues me. I’ve never been involved myself but it seems to me that it’s the professional equivalent of gambling. People take a punt that a certain stock will go up or down, and they either gain or lose money depending on whether or not their bet pans out. What interests me more is the fact that in essence this is an economic reality built around the concept of buying and selling absolutely nothing. What you own are theoretically ‘parts’ of a particular company. Collect enough bits and you could own the company. In actuality you transfer a few numbers that represent money and receive a few numbers that represent stocks. When these numbers become larger numbers you sell them again, and receive in return a few more money numbers. There’s usually no real product or money (that you hold in your hands) seen in any of this process.
We have moral dilemmas now that just didn’t exist in the past. For example, is piracy really stealing? All you take is a copy of data. No one actually loses anything tangible out of the theft. Stealing a handbag means that someone no longer has their handbag. Stealing a car means that someone has to catch the bus for a while. Stealing a computer program means that another copy just ‘magically’ pops into existence and becomes yours. The futuristic super-villains of the past held countries to ransom with real-life weapons of mammoth size, often floating in space. The reality of our modern world is that you could hold a nation to ransom with nothing more ‘real’ than a copy of a few files from a secure computer.
Virtual reality may not have eventuated in the way of realistic virtual worlds, but in a way reality is becoming ‘virtual’. It may not be problematic or even surprising, but I find it interesting that cold, hard cash and cold, hard facts are fast becoming anything but tangible.