While I find online banking and debit cards incredibly convenient, I always like to keep a few dollars in my wallet – just in case.
It paid off a few weeks ago, if only in peace of mind that l could still buy a few necessities during a temporary Internet service disruption affecting Bell Aliant customers in Atlantic Canada.
At first I didn’t even realize there was a problem. When a text failed to transmit, I placed a call. When the call wouldn’t go through, I figured it was my cellphone. It’s four years old and likely in need of an upgrade, I reasoned.
But when my wife and I arrived at the credit union shortly before noon, we found a closed sign at the front door. It would remain closed until technical problems were resolved. That would turn out to be about four hours. In the meantime, debit and credit cards for thousands of customers like me were rendered useless.
I’m not a prolific cellphone or Internet user and, with some cash in my wallet, it wasn’t a great inconvenience. But for many, I’m sure being temporarily offline seemed like an eternity, especially if their gas tank was nearly empty or their banking needs were more urgent than ours.
Bell later apologized and said the disruption occurred after two major fibre links were accidentally cut during third-party construction work.
And accidents like this one serve as a reminder of just how reliant some of us have become on the Internet, cellphones and electronic banking to function in our day-to-day lives.
The fact I usually have cash in my wallet is no doubt a throwback to the days when I was actually paid in cash or by cheque. That made interacting with others a necessity. Cashing the cheque meant dealing with a bank teller. Cash in hand, monthly bills (telephone, electricity, cable, rent) were paid directly at various business offices. With the advent of online banking, there’s no need of most of those face-to-face transactions.
Nowadays, my pay is automatically deposited into a bank account. I don’t get a pay stub, although I can access one online if I want to take a look. Most of our bills are paid online.
So that means I have to rely on people who know a lot more than I do about the Internet to ensure the service is always there – or at least that if there’s a disruption its only temporary. To be honest, I worry more about issues like cyber bullying and hacking than I do about the Internet suddenly grinding to a halt – not that there aren’t plenty of doomsday scenarios out there. Given the degree our society has become socially, culturally and financially dependent on it, it’s hard to imagine trying to get along without it.
That said, we likely haven’t experienced the last short-term, localized disruption, so it’s probably a good idea to consider some kind of emergency contingency plan.
My contribution to that plan is decidedly non-technical – always have a few actual dollars on hand that you can readily access without a teller or bank machine.
Find a place among the plastic cards in your wallet to tuck away a $20 or a $50 bill in the event you’re ever unable to use those cards – just in case.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown