Do We Need Wallets in the Age of Smartphones?


Do We Need Wallets in the Age of Smartphones?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The wallet used to be an indispensable accessory when one would leave the house. A bit like a Sachin Tendulkar hundred in a World Cup. Your wallet carries all your secrets: How loaded are you? How many credit cards you own? The proof of your age. And those embarrassing passport-size photos from your younger days. But looks like the phone has upstaged the wallet.  

It’s almost impossible to forget your phone before leaving your house today because it has become an extension of the human body. You can forget your tiffin or wear your T-shirt inside out, but no one leaves their house without their handset, charger, and earphones these days. It’s the new holy trinity. If one doesn’t feel a constant six-inch bulge in their front pocket, they know something is amiss.

Just 25 years ago, no one thought about walking around with a tiny brick-like device in their pockets. Nobody thought the humble wallet, with its laminated calendar, stacks of notes and coins, and a restaurant bill from two months ago, would be relegated to either the back pocket or a chain in the office bag. 

So, is it time’s up for the batwa?

For the millennial generation, it certainly seems so. I keep my wallet in my bag and only use it when someone insists that I make a cash payment, asks for my ID at a bar, or to figure out which of my 17 credit or debit cards are actually active. Unlike my father, who considers arranging cash, coins, and cards in his wallet an art form, and is a little too particular about its colour (shouldn’t be black), I keep my wallet hidden from view.

My smartphone had replaced my wallet, just like it replaced the calculator and torch before it.

This one day, while shuffling between my gym bag, office bag, and trekking bag, I ended up leaving for work without my wallet. I was almost at the railway station when I realised I had left it behind.

My immediate worry was that I didn’t have my seasonal train pass. But I had access to it on my phone, thanks to the UTS app. What about the cab ride to work and my lunch? I then realised that I could book cabs and food online with the YONO SBI app, while also getting some hefty discounts, so I wouldn’t really need a wallet. I could use the same app for banking and buying anything else I’d need throughout the day. The YONO SBI app would come in handy if I needed to withdraw cash without a card if I desperately craved for kanda bhajiya on a rainy day. And I could also pay without a card directly at the POS machine now while shopping. On the rare occasion that I would have to provide address or age proof, I had soft copies on Gmail – it’s accepted at airports and train stations now. So I consciously decided that there was no point going back to fetch my wallet and carried on with my day.

I didn’t once miss it. It was official. My smartphone had replaced my wallet, just like it replaced the calculator and torch before it. And it did a far better job too. Apps like YONO SBI helped me take care of public transport, food, shopping and banking while making sure I didn’t miss my daily quota of cute dog videos. 

The death of the wallet is around the corner, and it’s about time. With the phone’s infinite capacity to get things done, and society transitioning from a cash to cashless economy worldwide, wallets are going to join the MP3 player and torch, as just another item slain by the mobile phone.