You Forget about Your Bank Account

Today I’d like to introduce what is going to be a long and involved topic here: money. Right after mystery (which I sort of depend on for my storylines), money in the world of Hathor is one of the biggest challenges for me to understand and maintain. That’s because, just like mystery, total information awareness would radically change the way we value, use, and think about money.

I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, once everything is working right, the end result is that we won’t think about money very much at all.

For one thing, positive identity eliminates the need for things like credit cards. If Hathor knows who you are, and Hathor knows how much money you have (and where it all is), you can walk into a convenience store, grab a bottle of soda, and walk right back out the front door. No cash register, no card reader, no PIN. Hathor could remove the soda from the shop’s inventory, and Hathor could remove the cost from your bank account.

Minor, everyday purchases that fit within a person’s budget would probably be handled precisely that way. There would need to be some behavioral monitoring, some sort of alarms to warn you if you were reaching for something you couldn’t really afford (I’ll get to that in a moment), but the easy stuff would feel like free.

When it comes to the harder stuff, the purchases you actually have to stop and think about, well, Hathor shows up there, too. I’ve talked before about Hathor turning into a perfect personal shopper, helping you out when you wander into the grocery store, or the restaurant, or even the real estate market, with a handy list of exactly which product will best serve you. There are several elements that go into that:

  • Your preferences
  • Your shopping habits
  • Your actual usage habits (your personal shopper isn’t going to recommend you buy an elliptical trainer if you’ve already got a perfectly good treadmill gathering dust in storage somewhere)
  • And your finances

I talk a lot in the books about Midas, the money management software of the Hathor future. In the first book Katie meets the inventor of Midas, who bemoans the fact that it originally turned into a source for high-interest loans, but then announces proudly that he bought it back, and converted it into something useful.

By the time of the books, it is. It’s a service that knows how much income you’ve got, how many expenses, and what categories you tend to divert that money into. You can find something like that at Mint.com today, and it’s uncanny how well that service can characterize your financial habits with nothing but a username and password.

But in a world where every penny is tracked digitally, where every identity is nailed down, and every word of buyer’s remorse captured, parsed, and weighted for future evaluation, the system will be able to do far more. It’ll find discounts for you.

It won’t keep you from buying things “just for fun,” it won’t get in the way of your guilty pleasures — after all, it’s based on your buying patterns, not your accountant’s recommendations — but it will direct you away from the impulse purchases you’re likely to regret, and it’ll put up some serious red flags before you walk into a ruinous financing deal.

None of that is going to be startlingly new. With online banking, none of us has to carry around a checkbook with a balance sheet neatly tallied in pen anymore. With sites like Mint.com, and cheap budgeting software, it’s easy enough to find out where our money is going, how much disposable income we’ve really got, and most of us can instinctively feel when we’re about to sign something we really shouldn’t.

The difference with Hathor is data. Right there, at the point of sale, instead of hesitating and thinking, “Can I really afford this?” you might get an angry chime in your headset, pull out your handheld, and see a chart showing you exactly what your future spending patterns look like with the purchase, and without it.

You can see all the little guilty pleasures your personal shopper would be recommending to you over the course of the next year that you’ll be having to give up if you buy this new thing now. Maybe it’s extra pairs of shoes…maybe it’s your house (and you click right through to see listings for apartments that would be in your new price range, and take a virtual tour to see if you’d be willing to live like that).

Midas wouldn’t decide whether or not you made the purchase, it would just be there to help you make the decision with all the real costs ready to hand, immediately visible. And if you made the purchase anyway, Midas would get a little bit smarter, knowing your buying patterns even better.

And then it would get right to work making your future financial situation as comfortable for you as possible, in light of this new expense. That’s what it’s for. In the end, you’d barely think about your bank account at all.

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