Commerce, a slave to electricity?

It has been over two centuries since Benjamin Franklin tied a key on a kite string. He stood out in a rainstorm flying a kite to coax down some electricity in the form of lightning. Since his discovery, humankind has worked tirelessly to harness electricity for use. In that time, humankind has learned how to generate it and has created every kind of gadget to make life easier. From Edison’s light bulb to the George Foreman grill, we are able to do almost everything with electricity.

Have you noticed though in the span of just around 100 years, we have managed to slow to a snail’s pace something that has thrived for thousands of years? They had it in Egypt, Rome, China and even in the Americas. What is it? Commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services.

Over the last couple of decades, another invention, the computer, has made our lives better in so many ways, except when the power goes out.

I have seen commerce came to a halt in my hometown when for a couple hours in the middle of the day the power was off. I know at least one bank closed its doors, the Post Office could only sell stamps, gas stations couldn’t pump gas, businesses could not run their computer cash registers, so for this time folks looking to conduct simple daily transactions were inconvenienced. Imagine what it would be like if this happened on a larger scale for an extended period of time.

Men and women have been buying and selling without electricity forever. With ink and paper or the fingers on their hands, bills were tallied, money changed hands and the customer was on his way. But thanks to all our progress and all the advantages of the modern age, you can’t cash a check or make a deposit at the bank without electricity. Since no one puts prices on products anymore, only the electric computer scanner can tally a bill.

Even if you do find an ambitious cashier, willing to add in their head, they wouldn’t know what to charge.

I remember one time having to contact an insurance company about a claim. Their electricity was out. So, everybody had gone home except the poor soul answering the phone. I guess that means that we’ve advanced to the point no one can write on paper anymore. If the computers don’t get electricity, we’re closed.

I guess folks thirty and under have never experienced anything else. Do you remember the days when you had to know the prices of the items you sold? I remember my mother telling me about getting her first job at the Southern Railway Terminal in Chattanooga. In 24 hours, she had to be able to recite the price of every item they sold and run the cash register, which wasn’t electric. If she could do it, she got the job. She did it.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Many cash registers today in fast food restaurants don’t show prices. They show pictures of the food.

These days there are obviously some things you can’t do without electricity. I am not advocating life without it, but as the threat of outages spread across the country, it would make sense for business people to have contingency plans in place to continue to serve customers in some way during these down times.

I guess it would mean people would have to pull the mechanical cash register out of the backroom. Take out the old Royal typewriter to write for the paper and dig out the old press. Make a paper copy of prices or account records to refer to when the power goes out.

Maybe we could just go back to using ink and paper or folk’s fingers. They kept commerce going for centuries. And, you know, when somebody’s countin’ on his or her fingers if they don’t have enough, yours are right there to give ‘em a hand. That’s a whole lot nicer than being just another number on the screen. Yep, commerce is a slave to electricity but we shall overcome, if we don’t we will just have to do without one or the other.