Podcast: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff

by Joe McGonegal on July 12, 2017 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, Authors, Podcast, Podcast

Counterfeiting money in the 1700s was not so sophisticated a skill. Some got away with a trick as simple as chiseling away the number “20” on a unit of currency and replacing it with the word “100.” To counter such counterfeits when he started printing currency in 1738, Ben Franklin started spelling the word “Pennsylvania” differently on each different denomination.

In a new book on the subject of money entitled Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, co-editor Lana Swartz SM ’09 assembles such historical analysis and other oddities of transactions.

The book, published by MIT Press this spring and co-edited by Bill Maurer, also suggests that money is not being dematerialized in our day, but materialized through other devices, cards, chips, and digital code.

While the dream of a cashless society has long been envisioned, the world still isn’t quite ready to buy in, argues Swartz, an assistant professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. “Cashlessness has never really been achieved. Like the paperless office, cash sort of lingers on. But beginning in 2008, we really saw an explosion in innovation in the stuff of money in everyday life.”

Lana Swartz ’08

The book, which includes a chapter from Whitney Anne Trettien SM ’09, explores the changing nature of payment systems. Swartz aims to continue researching in this space, and will publish another book in the coming year on topics such as Venmo and the “unbanked” in America.

Take, for example, airport workers, whose workplaces are frequently becoming cashless. “For the most part, like many Americans, they spend most of their time in the cash economy. But suddenly they’re cut out from the place where they’re able to work. They can’t spend their money there. So I think it’s important to think about the sort of infrastructural politics of new technologies and the potential for injustice that may arise.”

Listen to the full interview with Swartz above then visit the Slice of MIT Podcast page on SoundCloud for the full archive of podcast episodes from the MIT Alumni Association.

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