November 16, 2016
Remember Apple’s “There’s an app for that” tagline? The thrill of being able to simultaneously know the weather conditions in Dubai and Chanhassen, while booking a flight to Dubai and checking reviews for in-flight meals on Emirates Airlines. Ah, technology. But, as shows like “Black Mirror,” “Westworld” and the upcoming film adaption of Dave Eggers’ “The Circle” all tease a future of soulless electronic interactions, are we charged with wondering what will happen to good, old-fashioned human-to-human awkwardness?
One such awkward human interaction I am happy to surrender to the electronic abyss is asking for, paying back or generally discussing the exchange of money with friends. Imagine a world where a dinner with friends doesn’t end with the sacrificial lamb of the table fumbling with several credit cards and a fist of cash, jotting down barely legible notes to indicate “Megan had salmon.”
Well, there’s obviously an app for that.
Apple actually trademarked the phrase in 2010, a year when the top selling apps were Skee Ball, Doodle Jump and Angry Birds (according to Business Insider). While many of us probably consider ourselves technologically evolved from the days of slinging two-dimensional birds at ill-fated pigs, we can now sling cold, hard cash at our nearest and dearest.
A not-so-new favorite of mine and the ubiquitous “kids these days” is Venmo, an app that lets you quickly and easily pay your friends for any expense, free of charge. With your accounts synced up to the app, you can send money that can be instantly be used for another Venmo payment, or directly deposited into their bank account within a business day.
Here’s a nifty little visual breakdown of several online payment options, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
It is similar to PayPal, who acquired Venmo as part of its $800 million acquisition of payment processor Braintree in 2014. According to Fortune, Venmo was 2015’s third-most-popular downloaded mobile app.
Sending money on Venmo, or the action “to Venmo” in Millennial vernacular, is as easy as sending a tweet, including the ability to share a little insight on your transaction through text or (of course) emoji. So similar, in fact, that each transaction shows up on a public newsfeed where others can like or comment on your transaction – just in case I need public validation for paying my half of the grocery bill this month. My personal Venmo feed includes friends’ transactions for fantasy football dues, concert tickets, gas money and others.
What are other Millennials transferring money for? These are the top 100 used terms in Venmo transactions, according to PR Daily:
In an interview last summer, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman told Fortune “the secret sauce of Venmo is turning a transaction into an experience. It’s almost ubiquitous among Millennials.”
But we’re all human, what happens when “Megan” keeps “forgetting” to pay you back for her salmon? This is where I am more than happy to let technology step in and help alleviate the discomfort of asking friends to pay you back. Instead of the itchy conversation with “Megan” next time you see her at Friendsgiving, Venmo allows you to request a payment from a friend with the cold, emotionless ease of swiping left on Tinder or unfriending that one girl from high school. You can even use passive-aggressive emoji. The non-threatening request looks like this and is a private action in the app:
In an effort to represent both sides of the coin, a quick survey of fellow Fast Horse employees stirred up at least one anti-Venmo vote. While I’m far from a money-under-the-mattress type, I am the first to acknowledge the risk and vulnerability of online transactions. As with any purchase, you’re most likely to encounter Venmo scams while conducting business with someone you don’t know. Sound familiar? Didn’t all our parents warn us of this when we were kids?
For example, if a stranger is “Venmo-ing” you money for a Craigslist purchase, the scammer can cancel the transaction after sending it, but before you can transfer the money into your bank account. While you can use the money in your Venmo account immediately for other Venmo transactions, there is a business day delay before you can transfer it into your bank account. This gives a window of opportunity for scammers to cancel the payment, just like someone canceling a check before you cash it.
In conclusion, is the ability to avoid classic human awkwardness (such as conversations about money) worth the increased vulnerability that comes with apps like Venmo? Is that for us to decide, or will we even have a choice in the not-so-distant future?