A couple issues in the news cycle right now are signs of the times. On one hand, Canada has just stopped minting its penny, and calls in the United States for America to do the same are loud enough to be addressed in presidential policy.
At the same time the United States Postal Service is also struggling with dollars and cents. It has already increased postage rates, and the USPS claims it must end Saturday delivery to start spelunking its way out of the dark cave in which it dwells.
Pennies and post, just the phrase, represent dated concerns of America. Obama’s solution to the former is to use cheaper metals. Others propose alternative solutions for the USPS because ending Saturday delivery is currently illegal. But my point is not to debate solutions to these issues but to explain that they are part of the same phenomenon.
To move away from counting change and checking the mail represents a larger, spiritual shift in America. Where once we had steel and steam, we now have silicon, shale oil, and natural gas. Mixing honey and butter and picnickling at municipal bandshells have given way to blending wasabe and soy sauce and eating Ramen while livestreaming the 11-11-11 concert. This is a necessary shift, and I welcome it.
Whenever I watch well-made films set 50 years ago, I’m struck with how much stuff used to exist. Pertinent to the aforesaid, saving enough pennies in tin cans or glass jugs meant a windfall of gold-pegged, Bretton-Woods-anchoring U.S. dollar bills. Mailing a letter, while not always involving an inkwell and wax seal, was a small event and many a relationship was built and broken on postal correspondence alone.
I save loose change when I know I should just throw it out. I send snail-mail letters to my friends and am excited to hear back from them. But, when I’m actually making in-person transactions, I don’t pay for anything with cash, and I would never get anything done if I didn’t check my email at least hourly.
The past and the future can live as one sometimes, and in some ways they always will. But fights over the penny and USPS don’t raise the ire of most millennials, and I think this goes for bemoaning the decline of manufacturing jobs as well. Monetary policy and intellectual property, however, matter to us, and you can’t really see or touch those things.
America and the world see rust as an Instagram filter and acid as a questionable jean or recreational choice. I hope that as we move more into a world of ideas, we keep a strong sense of ourselves, of course. But if cents and stamps become memories, we must never stop fighting all perceived evils before us, not necessarily physically, as those before us never failed to do.