File photo for editorials by Scott Tibballs (Scott Tibballs/The Free Press)

Column: The Free Press editor, Scott Tibballs on where the money went

Recently I was handed a piece of brightly-coloured plastic.

Adorned with imagery of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, I was initially confused as to what I was supposed to be doing with it. Decorate my walls? Use it as a bookmark? Fold it up into a little paper plane?

I am of course, joking. For the first time in almost a year, I was holding physical cash. (I wish there had been more of it though.)

This being a tourist town full of seasonal workers, my experience is probably not that common, but it got me thinking about how far along we’ve come when it comes to the transition to a cashless society, especially given the ongoing pandemic.

Early in 2020, stores all over Canada were quick to shift to touch-less payment options – indeed most of them already had them.

I guess I was ready for it, because almost a year later I can genuinely claim that I cannot recall the last time I used cash to pay for something. The little divider in my wallet for cash has been unused for its stated purpose for months. Instead, it’s full of receipts from purchases made with a debit card that I can magically make myself poorer with by waving around on cue.

As an item that changes hands often, cash was one of the first targets of attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 early last year. Since then, I’ve seldom seen cash change hands, let alone handled it myself.

It’s not hard to believe that physical money is crawling with bacteria. Multiple studies over the years indicate anywhere from a third to 90 per cent of all banknotes in circulation in North America are contaminated with trace amounts of cocaine, so it doesn’t require much of an imagination to think of what else the banknotes you handle have been in contact with.

From where I was standing, before the pandemic, the idea of a cashless society seemed pretty academic. I always carried cash, even if I rarely used it – but today I never carry it and that development hasn’t stopped me from parting with my money in other ways.

As a good little capitalist, I always liked money. I don’t mean the accumulation of money, but collecting banknotes and coins from my own country and from countries around the world. Physical money is where nations showcase their achievements and signal their values. Her Majesty is on the $20 note here in Canada, but the $5 note in Australia. Take from that what you will.

Money is one of the few things everyone in a community comes in contact with. A little bit of shared – or at least consensus – history.

Americans love their presidents, Europeans cherish bridges and historical architecture, Australians value artists and scientists – or so I am to assume given the images on the various banknotes.

In a cashless society, visiting foreign countries won’t involve the joy of exchanging dollars for pesos, or dollars for euros, or dollars for different dollars – all adorned with different faces, different histories and stories and identities. Instead, it will all be just numbers, devoid of character.

While I was quick to eschew physical cash in 2020, and all the banks and analysts around the world seem to think a cashless society is inevitable, I for one will miss physical cash when (if) it does finally go the way of the dodo – if anything, just for the tiny little window into history a banknote can provide.



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some of the folks behind Angel Flight East Kootenay: Todd Weselake is a director, partner and pilot while Brent Bidston is the president and lead pilot of the not-for-profit. Pictured here with their older plane, they hope to get an upgrade for thanks to RDEK funding. (Image courtesy of Angel Flight East Kootenay)
Angel Flight secures RDEK funding for next five years

$100,000 will go to the not-for-profit each year, with the funds to be used to acquire a larger plane

(L-R) Michelle Malan, Administrator for the Elk Valley Seniors Housing Society (Lilac Terrace) and Stephonie Gordon, Staff Representative of the Legacy Celebration Committee, Sparwood Branch. (Contributed by EKC)
EKC gives $10k to Lilac Terrace

The funding is part of the EKC’s 70s anniversary celebrations

Forty-seven vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Health Minister Adrian Dix, front, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrive for a news conference about the provincial response to the coronavirus, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. Pandemic emergency measures have been in place for almost a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. officials plead for patience as 1.7 million COVID-19 calls flood in

Vaccine registration for 90-plus seniors opened Monday

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
B.C. father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

Software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, has been forced to re-skill during the COVID-19 pandemic after more than six years of unsuccessfully applying for jobs in B.C.’s tech industry. (Submitted photo/Shaimma Yehia)
Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

Experienced software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, hasn’t found a job since she migrated to Canada 6 years ago

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

Most Read