Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Technology as a Touchstone

Back when I was working at Nova conversation school, I made friends with a British woman whose grandmother was in her early 90's and was in failing health. I expressed my sympathy and she said that her grandmother was "ready" to die because she'd seen so much of the world change in her life. She mentioned that things like travel by plane, which were common by the time of her death, were not the case when she was a child. Her main point was that she'd seen a lot and was okay with the idea that she was going to die.

At the time that my friend told me that, I was 24 and couldn't relate entirely to what she was saying. Now, I'm quite a bit older and am beginning to see and feel a bit of what her grandmother must have felt. In my post about how things have changed since I arrived in Japan, I cover some of these things but I recently had a lesson with a student that reinforced this feeling.

My student works in the accounting section of a building materials company and she was trying to explain a commonly-used method of payment in Japan which is the equivalent of a regulated, dated "I.O.U.". She said that it's common for companies to make agreements which state that, at some point in the future, they will pay the balance of their debt in full. If they fail to pay at that point, there can be serious legal consequences which can result in bankrupcy.

Anyway, when I was trying to understand what she was talking about, I mentioned several payment methods that are possible in the United States. One of the methods I mentioned was a money order. She had no idea what a money order was and couldn't conceptualize under what circumstances one might use one. She's not the first person to not know what this method of payment was. A young friend of mine (approaching his mid 20's) in the U.S. also had never heard of one when I mentioned he could use one to pay for something.

Money orders were a common means of guaranteed payment when I was growing up and now they are going to become as antiquated as green stamps. I'm guessing payment by personal check is not far behind money orders in this regard.

Somehow, the fact that young people don't know what a money order is feels different than old technology which they may not be familiar with. I guess that part of the reason for that is that format changes or technological improvements are faster and more common but things like methods of payment tend to linger for a much longer time. I guess my friend's grandmother probably felt much the same about modes of transportation.

1 comment:

Tokyo Rosa said...

Hi, Shari,

I actually received payment from Japan via a postal money order, so they still exist in Japan--and, I would think that, given the dearth of personal checking accounts there, are far more popular than they are in the US.