Money as a stereotype

Today I paid cash for a notebook to write in. It’s the first time in six months I have paid cash for anything.  Tap and go is a boon for me. I no longer have to worry about finding an ATM, or always having to check if I’ve been to a bank before I go out with friends for coffee. 

I think there will always be a place for cash, but I think we are heading toward a mainly cashless society.  I think it’s inevitable. For most people not having to carry cash makes things easier. Over the last week, for example, I purchased online one item in US dollars, and one in Euro online, not to mention spent lots of money in local stores in Australian dollars. All on the same card, without having to do anything except either hand the card over, or provide the card number.

That’s a lot simpler than it would have been a generation ago, where for local purchases I would have required cash, while overseas purchase would require a cheque or money order in the currency I purchased the item.

At the same time, it’s becoming more difficult to get cash when you need it. Even ATMs are less common than they used to be.

Here in the modern world we think we’re the first to come up with a cashless/credit society, but we’re not.  The Mesopotamians and Harappans (Indus civilisation), for example, used clay tablets as a form of credit.  One might say there’s nothing new under the sun.

Many science fiction writers use a credit system for money in their stories. We did, in both the Linesman and Stars Uncharted series.  We called them credits. Original, huh?

It wasn’t until we were working out the monetary system for the story we are currently writing—a fantasy—that that I realised just how much of a stereotype credits are.  I mean, we’ll go to the trouble of creating money for a fantasy world—sure we’ll often use gold and silver, but not just ‘gold’ and ‘silver’—but all we use in science fiction is ‘credits’.

“A thousand platinum bars,” Viggo said.

A thousand!  He moistened his lips with his tongue. “A thousand platinum?” …

“Bars,” Viggo said, as if he wouldn’t know the difference between bars and pieces.

S. K. Dunstall

Credits, for us, are a lazy way of writing.  In the fantasy above I know exactly how many pieces a loaf of bread costs (two), but I have no idea how much the equivalent costs in credit. Surely, there are some basic things you should know about your society, like how much it costs to buy food to live on.  And I do have an idea of this, sort of, but it doesn’t translate to the page. You, the reader, don’t even know if credits can be fractions of a whole (for example, 2.2 credits) or only integer (22 credits).  Or maybe they’re like Vietnamese dong. Last time I looked there were around 23,000 dong for one US dollar.

So, next time we create a science fiction world (outside of the Linesman or Stars Uncharted universes), we’ll know exactly what our money system is, and how it works. And we’ll try not to use credits.

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