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Many of us lament the death of the wallet, a casualty of the tech revolution. But, asks William Sitwell, could millennials, awake to the threat of giving out their location, movements and data to parents, partners and state, stage a generational fightback? 
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It was in the tiny village of Old Perithia, Corfu, that the penny (sorry, Bitcoin) dropped. As we wandered about the remnants of a 14th century settlement, dodging the odd smouldering remains of an olive tree ravaged by the summer wild fires, we paused to step into a small cottage in which an old lady, dressed in black, was selling decorative tablecloths, little porcelain models of Greek churches, local honey. And iPhone cases. What was missing, and what appeared to be missing from every such souvenir shop across the island, and no doubt Greece, if not into Europe and very possibly beyond into the rest of the world, were wallets. Good old-fashioned, locally-crafted (or, yes, ok, Made in China) tactile and fresh, leather-made, leather-smelling wallets. Wallets of all shapes and sizes. Tiny ones for credit cards, fatter ones for your wads of cash and your Visa bank card, your driving licence and that card that no one accepts anywhere, American Express. Across the years I’ve picked them up, sniffed them and then bought a few, for myself or as presents.


But now they’ve disappeared, perhaps the cows in the fields munch grass with some renewed vain hope as mankind dispenses with smart leather shoes and wallets. Except our hunger for beef remains un-dimmed and sales of leather belts look steady.


The death of the wallet is yet another casualty in the march of the digital revolution. Once it was a necessity to carry cash. Wide boys bound their wads of cash together with engraved, gold money clips, most of us carried cash in our wallets, with a small inner purse, perhaps for coins, as well as sleeves for banking and business cards. I have a vague recollection of some dodgy geezer on a show like Minder pulling a long concertina of a credit card wallet out of his Mackintosh breast pocket. A few never used them. A girl I know, for example, chooses instead to have some cash in a back pocket, and a bankers card lost in the bottom of an old hand bag, missing among biscuits crumbs, some old keys of a flat she no longer owns and, very possibly, a small family of squirrels.


A recent survey by Mastercard showed that under fifty per cent of Brits now use a wallet. And that simply to contain a bank card or two, a retail loyalty card and a driving licence. 33 per cent said they don’t need to carry a wallet for any purpose, more than half of those aged 18 to 34 say they carry a phone in place of a wallet and all this as 93 per cent of consumers in the poll said they used alternative means of payment to cash; from contactless to cryptocurrency transactions.


Which does make it easier to leave the house. Once one’s remembered one’s trousers it’s just the keys – for house and/or car and phone that needs finding.


Its seems like it was back in the Stone Age era that one needed to remember to take airline tickets to the airport, or some paper proof to gain access to a concert, the movies, a festival or indeed anything.


Today virtually everything can be done on the phone. And I love it. I bank on mine, of course; making and chasing payments. And how miraculous it was when I discovered I could even bank a cheque with my mobile. I buy flights, train journeys, parking, hotels, holidays, hire taxis and bicycles. Arriving in Paris recently rather than joining a queue for a cab I quickly downloaded an app for Velib and then whizzed around the city for under a pound a day.


I can trade shares with Trading 212, monitor sales of my supper clubs with Eventbrite, send invoices with Xero, turn my house alarm on and off, monitor security cameras, check my pension, insurance policies and upcoming rides on Peloton, watch GB News and TalkTV and Sky and the BBC and Netflix, listen to LBC and 10 Radio (Wiveliscombe), all podcasts, audio books, get travel directions and weather updates, take photos and videos, of course, waste colossal amounts of time checking Instagram, twitter, facebook and sharing appalling jokes on WhatsApp groups. As well as engaging with people globally, looking for jobs on LinkedIn (joke!), plus: buying stuff, big or small on Amazon and ebay, from ride-on lawn mowers to small boxes of drawing pins.


It is a veritable creation of utter genius and, once it has stored and facilitated in some manner or other my house keys and car keys, it’s only remaining requirements will be to feed and water the hens, put the bins out and make me a cup of coffee.


Once a week, automatically, unsolicited and somewhat ominously, my phone tells me how much time I am spending on it. It’s a sort of minxish ‘I know you love me, I know you hate me,’ message. ‘Your screentime was up 7.4 per cent last week,’ it declares. Doing more work, or wasting more time? It doesn’t say, although I suspect it’s the latter, and I suspect the phone knows, but I’ve never been moved to enquire.


And if I wanted to read on it I’m sure I could really jack up the hours. But while I love the multitudinous functionality I resist reading newspapers and books on a phone. I’ve enough trouble with things going in one ear and out the other in record time and am certain that the brain does not engage half as well in digital as it does in print. So I still insist on trees being cut down to enable me to process news and literature and I relish the fact that the room in which I work is filled, floor to ceiling, with books. Although I’m aware it could be developing into more of an aesthetic luxury than a practical tool as Mr Google receives virtually all of my research enquiries. But the rarity of finding info I need in a book plucked from a shelf provides almost mystical joy.


And, with many like-minded souls, I despair at those who constantly look at their phone. It’s a completely hypocritical act because they might be reading Socrates, trading gold or observing children scrumping their apples on CCTV but my assumption is they’re wasting time and being uncivilised and anti-social.


I do still have a wallet, containing a driving licence, two bank cards and a loyalty card for our local deli, the Wivey Larder, but if I leave it behind I do not feel the need to perform a Dukes of Hazard style turnaround when I’m half way to the station.


Leaving my wallet behind is no longer an issue of catastrophic trauma. And if I’ve left it behind then at least I won’t lose it. I once left a wallet on a park bench in Kyoto. Returning two minutes later to find it gone I assumed it had been pinched. I was advised to report the loss at a local police kiosk. By the time we’d returned to our ryokan news came that the wallet had been handed in to a nearby police station.


Will the loss of the wallet mean we experience fewer such acts of human kindness? Who would ever hand in a phone? As the stuff’s on the iCloud, we know it doesn’t matter anyway.


Of course the disappearance of the wallet is something that osteopaths encourage; the sitting on them potentially tilting the pelvis, throwing you off alignment and pinching the sciatic nerve (albeit good business for osteopaths…). And I don’t know whether the jury is still out on whether storing an electronic signalling device near one’s nether regions lowers libido and diminishes sperm count (which in my case would be an advantage).


Yet the loss of the wallet does also rob something from the individual. That first wallet is surely a rite of passage. The teenager presented with a wallet recognises that he or she is on the path to adulthood. For that wallet signifies that the bearer can be trusted to possess and carry money, can get a bank account, might some day be trusted with a car.


And the feel of the wallet, the tactile texture and the warm, rich, enveloping smell of leather brings with it the idea of being welcomed into the room where the big boys are.


Today we dispense with these symbolic treasures and instead hand out phones to kids with the idea that they’ll keep them safe, but the reality being that they will in fact simply fast track them on the path to moronic status. The phones that keep you in touch, yes. But the instruments stop boredom and imagination and creativity. They pump little minds with videos of meaningless human activity and enslave them as addicts.


Yet, there may be hope. Could the next generation embrace a vinyl revival type resurge of the wallet? Now aware that their every movement is monitored by parent and state, perhaps they’ll discard their smart phones, move off the digital grid and once again seek out the Greek holiday gift that travels rather better than a bottle of Retsina: the precious and beautiful and very real leather wallet.

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