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home : insight & opinion : guest columns September 30, 2014

1/24/2014 11:17:00 AM
E-biz not keeping its promises to consumers
For the Daily News

I drove down to Valdosta, Ga., last weekend to take some old motorcycle parts to a distant acquaintance in need of them.  We had raced together in the '60s; he hunted me down and let me know he was going to make a comeback. I wasn't sure it was something to celebrate, but I offered to do what I could to help him. 

We picked a Cracker Barrel in his driving range and time frame, and I set off to meet him.  He was driving up from the Florida Keys, so there was some equity in our efforts (and he was paying for it), so I was given over to the road between us and the time to sit and think.

I noticed these things right away:  There is not much on the radio any more that is worth listening to, and NPR is not available everywhere; country music thrives on misery rather than happiness; screaming has been substituted for vocal talent in rock and roll; "Oldies" radio plays songs too new for me and less than 5 percent of the songs played should be played again. 

Since we are no longer to text or talk on our phones while driving, my isolation was complete and my attention was free to look for things to worry about other than the enormity of the semi filling my rear-view mirror. 

It was winter when I left Crawford County and doing a fair job of it, but by the time I reached Evansville that was behind me.  The roads were good, the traffic light, and I had taken a new audio book to enjoy on the way, so all was well.

Bright and early the next morning I was at the appointed place, and Mike arrived less than 10 minutes later, which was not bad considering the thousands of miles between our starting points.  We had breakfast and talked about things from the past, which was pleasant enough, and plans for the future, which were encouraging. 

Then we digressed to how rare it was now to do such things because something has happened to people since he and I had grown up.  We had both noticed a trait that was once expected in men but now seemed to be optional in its application - Keeping your word about doing what you say you will do.

It was once the linchpin of social interaction to be reliable.  Promises to do something or not do something were not lightly made, since the failure to make good would caste you in a light that no one wanted to be in.  He and I both had multiple examples to share of how someone had said they would do so-and-so, and in return we had done something but been disappointed by their failure to hold up their end. 

"It's a shame, really," he said, "that things have come to this," and I agreed.

On my way home I thought about the coming failure of e-commerce.  Everyone had been so hopeful once they had figured out the potential that electronic digital communication held for the transfer of our desire into material things via our secure bank accounts.  It seemed like a panacea for all things that had to do with the need to use cash - no more losing it, no more being robbed of it. Banks would keep our money for us, the reluctance of distant merchants to take our out-of-town checks could be overcome by the swipe of a card.

Not so fast.  If a thief were to target your bank account - so to speak - and try to reach through the barrier of electronic protection our financial world has erected in 1s and 0s, how difficult would it be for them to reach in and rob you?  Very easy, it turns out, and it's already happened. 

If you use a debit card, and enter your PIN number anywhere to access your money, then you are putting that number out there for them to find and take anytime they feel like it in the future.  There is no fraud protection on debit cards other than whatever limit you or your bank has put there, as there is on credit cards, and so what was once a more secure method of avoiding credit-card fees has turned into a lump of cash to be taken at will by an unscrupulous person in a cyber-disguise.

Can we find them? Maybe. Can we prosecute them and get our money back? Absolutely not.  They are in Yemen or  Estonia or Timbuktu or anywhere the law cannot reach them, and they act with impunity.  They drain our accounts and they take our hard-earned wages in a millisecond.  They buy themselves airline tickets to Abu Dhabi or  wherever, and other things you would never do, yet the transactions occur and the goods are taken and their value is lost to the commercial world, which will have to just take it and pass the losses on to us to make it back.

This cannot stand, of course, and even though retailers offer to make it up to us, they have to admit the lifeboat is leaking.  The future of e-commerce is not bright, it is dim, and I see more darkness at the end of that tunnel. 

Then a rainbow appeared to brighten my day and bring me out of the shadows of the coming collapse of our financial world. It was the kind we rarely see where both ends are visible with its full glorious arc of color that only shows when you are in just the right spot between the sun and a misty sky from a passing shower. 

I pulled over and took its picture with my phone, attaching the notation "Beautiful Rainbow," and shared it with my wife.  That was miraculous, too, although only in a minor way. 

"Wowie Kazowie" came back in response.  She has such a way with words.

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