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17/04/2008 - par Mark Tungate

Money is a medium. Don't take my word for it : no less a personage than Marshall McLuhan, author of the seminal Understanding Media (1964) says so, and his book has a whole chapter devoted to the subject. But McLuhan might have been surprised to discover that we were still using the stuff in the 21st century. I began to wonder why just the other day, when I was in Muntsplein - or place de la Monnaie - in Amsterdam, searching in vain for a cash machine (distributeur) that actually worked. After all, the girls in the red light district only take cash. All right - that was a joke. In fact, bizarrely, many ordinary cafés and bars in Amsterdam refuse to take credit cards. They are Dutch, and they don't like paying commission.

But really - why are we still using cash ? It is filthy and impractical. Notes wrinkle and rip. Coins weigh us down. Money is easy to steal and to forge. Surely we should all be using cards by now, even for the simplest transactions ? Adding a couple of euros to a bill is child's play - we don't need to start peeling notes off our thick wad to show off.

Perhaps it's something to do with the Americans. The tipping system is so well established there that everyone needs a few dollar bills in their pockets. Someone only has to say hello to you in a New York hotel and you're expected to pay them. Or maybe too many printers and security van drivers would be unemployed if we banned cash ? It will vanish soon, though. I bet you a fiver.

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