I was dubious about Venmo when my friends started using it several months ago, but because FOMO is a real thing, I ended up downloading it. If you don’t know, Venmo is an app that easily lets you send and receive payments amongst your friends. Because I’ve grown to appreciate Venmo for the small part in plays in my life, I started telling my brother about it over dinner.
“It’s kind of like Paypal! It’s safe, it connects to your debit card, and it’s free!” Despite my enthusiasm, Aaron, my brother, was clearly unimpressed. He didn’t think it was a problem worth creating an app over. But Aaron is also the kind of person who pays for dinner without worrying about who owes how much or who should pay for dinner next time. He hates that you “charge” your friends their half of the bill. “It’s stingy. Like I’m pinching pennies or counting good deeds,” he said. He’s either altruistic or too lazy to care about even distribution of money.
But not everyone has my brother’s generosity (or apathy), so Venmo has become increasingly popular within my circle of friends.
My friends and I use Venmo because it’s easier than hassling our attractive waiter into splitting our check five different ways. When going out to dinner, there’s always someone who doesn’t have the right amount of cash. It’s a minor inconvenience, but figuring out how to settle the bill when each person brought 20 bucks is time consuming. On top of that, I’m embarrassingly bad at math so when we start calculating how much each person owes plus tax plus gratuity, I’ve probably already mentally checked out, imagining a scenario wherein I’m rich and I pay for everyone’s meals and we move on with our lives.
One of my brother’s concerns with Venmo is that it connects to your bank account, which makes him feel as if he’s relinquishing control of his money even though he’s fully capable of paying someone back without Venmo. And it’s true: there’s a sense of realness that our smartphones take away from us. My brother is not advocating for the literal exchange of money between hands, but rather he dislikes the growing obsolescence of human connection when doing things with people in a tangible way.
So, really, Aaron doesn’t hate Venmo; he simply hates the idea that we are slowly relying on apps similar to Venmo when “the old fashioned way” worked just as well. After all, why should we fix something that isn’t broken?
In a time when we rely on smartphones for everything — from directions to restaurant reviews to dating — my brother thinks it’s important to bring back some agency in your life. We are not a technologically-dependent people who are incapable of splitting checks. This becomes more interesting when we think about which of us is right: Do I rely too much on non-essential apps when the entire history of humanity existed and thrived without them? Or is my brother wasting time when he has to go to the bank to withdraw cash?
I haven’t completely sold my soul to the technology devil, but I’m all about making life easier. We don’t need to fix things that aren’t broken and a trip to the bank for cash doesn’t take as long as I exaggerate it does. But there’s something super cool about innovation and the way we can look at something and make it better simply because we can.
There’s no denying that Venmo is useful: Some people use it to pay their roommates for internet, cable, or outrageously expensive movie tickets they tricked themselves into believing was worth it. Some people “charge” their roommates rent, because there’s always that one dude who forgets every single month. And sure, these may be #firstworldproblems, but I’m not one to turn my back on something that has real value —albeit small— only to use outdated checkbooks for tradition’s sake.
While Venmo may be an app that’s marketed to 20-somethings who are conscious about their money but are still committed to going out to dinner three nights a week, that’s okay. Venmo doesn’t have to appeal to my mom or my overly generous, conventional brother; there are enough people who see its functionality for what it is.
The bottom line is that it’s more convenient to Venmo someone 600 bucks for rent instead of carrying actual money around. Sure, it’s not as practical as the Reminder app, but Venmo eliminated a small nuisance in my life easily worth 700 words. We know the great value of our little computer phones, but Venmo reminds us that our iPhones can solve small problems, too. And isn’t this what Steve Jobs wanted all along? If you need to send your friend $8 for a salad, there’s an app for that.