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Device Intimacy and Social Infrastructure: the way forward for payments


People are becoming more intimate with their devices, and payments companies will need to find a way into the social infrastructure of people’s lives in order to survive in the long term.

Ben Hammersley, editor-at-large of Wired Magazine, delivered this message in a special address Tuesday morning on what giants like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google are going to do to payments. Hammersley is a leading international consultant, futurist and speaker on the networked world.

“Most people live their lives through these devices and become incredibly intimate with them. And so at the same time, as we live our entire intimate lives through these devices, any other service going through these devices has to be judged the same way.

Hammersley pointed out that people increasingly are becoming more intimate with their phones – so much so that there have been scientific studies on what’s known as phantom vibration syndrome in which people who have had a smartphone for more than a year start to feel their phones vibrating in their pocket, even though it isn’t.

“A part of your brain transforms because it’s constantly thinking about your phone.”

As people’s intimacy with their devices continues to increase, the payments industry needs to pay attention.

“The software has to stop being a technological wonder and start being much more of a social wonder.”

“A banking app is just as intimate as Tinder.”

That’s why things like payment sharing platform Venmo and Facebook Payments work so well, Hammersley said, because they’re within the social infrastructure of people’s lives, not the financial infrastructure.

“We can no longer think about payments, or any of the wider financial services, as being separate from everything else in people’s lives. Because all of these systems are going through these devices, they become incredibly intimate. And that’s why companies like Facebook and Apple and Google – which are already deeply intimate with their customer base – are perhaps the biggest challenge to this industry. They are able to capture a space within people’s lives that fits into the emotional and social context of everything else.”

The fact that computing power seems to double every 18 months or so, coupled with the effects of having so many people on a network in that there are 4 million smartphones in the world, means that we’re living in a time of immense change, driven by these forces, Hammersley said.

“We have to remember that immense change is asymmetrically applied. It’s not just a thing that’s happening to everyone at the same time.”

That means it’s worth looking at how systems such as digital payment platforms differ around the world.

“That asymmetry is not just geographic; it’s also demographic. Finding those demographic asymmetries is where you will find the value.”

While technology continues to be important, Hammersley said there’s a level of sophistication that comes with that technology where now it’s important to look at the accompanying social impacts.

“If you can capture that, you will win. But if you continue to see these things as technological solutions to practical problems, then you’ll be left behind by someone who understands the intimacy and the importance of the social aspect of all these things.”

Autumn Giusti
Autumn Cafiero Giusti is a New Orleans-based writer and editor with more than 15 years of professional experience. Giusti has covered global payments and financial services since 2006, having contributed to nearly a half-dozen trade and consumer publications. She previously served as news editor for New Orleans’ weekly business newspaper and as a daily newspaper reporter in Florida.

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