A long time ago, in a land not too far from here, cash was king. When you had it, you bought things, and when you didn't, well… you didn't. Comedian Louis CK says it best in this video. Now, a quick swipe of the card — or tap of a keychain, or a click of a button — and the deal is done. Financial transactions have grown increasingly abstract, encouraging wasteful and unwise purchasing habits.
Thankfully researchers at the MIT Media lab want to keep you rooted in the real world. They've created three different Proverbial Wallet prototypes that could help shoppers hang onto hard-earned cash.
Each one reconnects us physically with financial reality. The Bumblebee wallet contains a vibrating motor that buzzes whenever your bank account has a transaction. The length and pattern of the buzzes correspond with different kinds of transactions. It can also be an alert to fraud if it goes off unexpectedly.
The Peacock wallet expands and contracts depending on how much money is in a bank account. Cheekily, the researchers describe it online by saying, "Your assets will be on display to attract potential mates." Its indigo and red design is already eye-catching, so I can imagine that a really puffed-up version would be a conversation starter at the very least.
My favorite of the prototypes has to be the Mother Bear, which contains a hinge inside that is connected to a bank account and can be programmed to respond to a monthly financial goal. When money gets tighter, so does the wallet's grip. The hinge makes the wallet harder to open, creating a meaningful reminder to stay on target. From the video demo, you can still open the wallet, but it will take extra effort.
All of the wallet prototypes are functional, and according to the site, are sturdy enough to survive being sat upon. Each one utilizes a mobile platform called Hands and Fingers that was created by MIT Media Lab's Information Ecology group. The "fingers" are microprocessors that are embedded in the wallets while the "hand" is the corresponding software that runs on a mobile phone. The wallets communicate using Bluetooth.
I love these wallet concepts, although I'm pretty sure credit card companies and a lot of stores might not be so happy about them. In thinking about smarter wallets, I sometimes wish my well-worn one could sense where I'm shopping and flash some well-timed advice like, "Don't even think about buying dessert" or "You have enough shoes."