The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased
as punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor
and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris,
author of My
Wife and Times. —Ed].
The color of digital money
By Daniel Will Harris
I still don't quite understand how money works. I remember my mother taking me to open my first bank account. I only wanted one because when you opened an account, the savings and loan gave you a coin bank in the shape of a Ford Model T.
I handed over my $5 and in return the nice teller presented me with the car, and a little blue bank book. My mom got up and we were leaving and I said, "Where's my money?"
The teller said, "In the bank." I shook the toy car bank and heard nothing. I started to get cranky. "No it's not," I said, getting all teary-eyed. " "It's in *our* bank," she said.
I looked at the car. I looked at her. I looked at the little blue book. And then, at the top of my lungs, I screamed, "I gave you five dollars and all you gave me was this stupid little book!"
The young woman explained that they kept my money for safekeeping, and when I wanted it back, all I had to was show them the book. It sounded like a racket to me. I showed her the book and said I wanted it back—now. She said, "all right, but you'll have to give me back the book and the car."
My brain froze. This was too complicated for a five year old. Money. Car. Book. Book. Money. Car. What did these people want from me? I wanted the money. I wanted the car. And now I even liked the little blue book because it was the littlest book I'd ever seen and it had gold stamped on the cover.
I decided to outsmart them all. I'd take the book and car now. Then I'd come back tomorrow and get the money. I put the little blue book in a place so special I immediately forgot where it was. But I loved the car and still have it in a box in the garage (which, given the fact that we have a couple hundred boxes, is like saying, "It's somewhere in the state of California").
My wife will tell you that my grasp of money hasn't improved much since then. I know if you do something people want, then they'll give you money. And I know money is necessary to get toys, but that's about as far as my comprehension has ever progressed.
It must be even more confusing for kids today. Often there's not even any actual money—just numbers on a screen. As the web progresses, payment systems like Paypal let anyone send money to anyone else, via e-mail. You can probably understand that. But what about kids? How hard must it be to understand that you can type $20 in one place and it means nothing, but if you type it in another it means you get a genuine birchwood model of a T. Rex?
When young web designers and builders ask me how to get their start, I tell them to start by trading. Build a web site for a local restaurant or store in trade for food or toys (though I tend to say "peripherals" which is the new word for toys). Not only can you learn a lot by working directly with a local business person, but you get something tangible out of it, not just some numbers on a screen.
Because, as little as I know about money, I do know this much, courtesy of Thornton Wilder's play, The Matchmaker: "Money is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow!"