walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Cash Box_, Tom Harper and Bernardo Batiz-Lazo

Subtitled: The Invention and Globalization of the ATM.

It's what I grew up calling a "coffee table book": a little under a foot wide and just under 9 inches top to bottom. Full color illustrations throughout. The text is run as a single, wide column with deep margins, some of which contain side bars and/or photos, but there's also a lot of just shiny white space going on.

The cover and front matter and so forth is solid log-rolling. The recommendation on the back is by Mike Lee of the ATMIA, which was founded by Harper, who hired Lee. That's just the most obvious example.

There are occasional typos in the book (the one that really stood out is Mintel, where I think they meant Minitel), but they are rare. Given their solidly global description of the ATM, they had a lot of opportunity to get words wrong in other languages and they managed to avoid that, at least as near as I can tell. The cover is a little annoying, because they printed the photo of a photoshopped cashbox reversed, and it sort of grated on me because the whole thing _felt_ wrong until I realized what they did. The book is expensive: $74 on Amazon (FBA, so if you have Prime, that really is the extent of the cost) and appears to be sold by its publishers. I half suspect this is actually a marketing tool for ATMIA, but I'm not sure.

They do a nice job of covering the technical, legal, regulatory and social history of ATMs, once you take into consideration how much text there is, or rather isn't. This is a short book, but the pictures are genuinely useful.

The weakness, of course, lies in the authors commitment to the continuing success of the business their trade association represents. They find themselves arguing that cash is necessary because if you didn't have it, then something like a third of the economy wouldn't be able to continue (that is, the part of the economy which evades taxation by operating entirely in cash, which is universal, but the actual fraction varies from place to place, which they actually recognize and do a nice job of depicting). Further, cash is necessary, because, you know, power outages and other disasters. They also think of the anonymity and privacy of cash as one of its compelling features, neatly dodging the appeal of traceability not only to governments seeking tax evaders or drug dealers, but also to people who misplace their funds intentionally or otherwise.

So: expensive, short, biased, BUT extremely worth reading, especially if you are thinking about payment systems and whether/when we will completely ditch the folding green stuff and metal plugs. This book is _not_ disciplined by what it means by cash (certainly not as disciplined as Wolman was in his book), but they see the current hybrid world as extending indefinitely into the future, and by trying to join them in that hope, the reader has a really meaningful opportunity to try to figure out what other payment systems would have to provide to finish getting rid of the paper and metal bits.

ETA: Oh, did I mention that early cash boxes had a player-piano style paper tape phase and then later 60 col Hollerith punch cards? I did not. Such a lapse!
Tags: book review, non-fiction, our future economy today

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