Shoppers could soon pay for goods using a microchip implanted under the skin, according to a report in The Times newspaper recently.

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First, despite all the bells-and-whistles technologies on offer, using cash still has its advantages: it doesn't require any special equipment, it's anonymous and there are no transaction costs.

Yes, digital money has the advantage of being able to handle large transactions instantly, even over long distances, but using it requires complex electronic systems. Transactions are not anonymous; they can be traced back to the user.

What's more, several studies have shown that when people with credit card debt are confronted with their spending in terms of cold, hard cash, they are shocked. They've never been able to weigh their spending against their earnings while money is nothing more than numbers on a screen.

It's only when they feel the cash in hand that they're able to attribute value to their earnings - and their spending.

There are even bigger human issues at stake, though; issues as fundamental as freedom.

Despite the relative merits of digital money, it's not hard to imagine how bankers and others are using it to slowly eliminate cash altogether. Twenty years ago, that would have sounded far-fetched, but not any more.

Multi-national companies are building global networks of interconnected computer databases. That's the reason we can bank, buy, receive social benefits and even pay our taxes electronically.

Real money is being replaced with virtual money and this may very well be sowing the seeds of eventual electronic enslavement.

Our reliance on cards is actually a reliance on chips and it is already leading to unacceptable invasions of privacy. As we grow more and more familiar with a microchip culture, the easier it gets for someone to centralise all the information contained on our cards.

One chip can easily contain all the relevant information about our health, banking details, buying habits, voting preferences and so on. The technology is already in place - what's missing is the public acceptance.

Once money becomes nothing more than numbers on a screen, our material wealth can easily be manipulated by other people.

Yes, cash can be stolen, but when it is, fraudsters can't use it to steal your identity as well - as they can with cards. Stealing your cash does not give thieves access to personal information about you.

And the drive for a cashless society may well lead to sinister attempts to control individuals and even entire populations.

Already, miniature chip technologies are being used to turn us into an extension of our bank accounts - in a world where numbers, not individuals, rule.

Cash, though far from a perfect means of trade, equals freedom. If cash is eliminated, or downgraded even further, the stage is set for companies, national governments or even global bodies to monitor and manipulate our behaviour.  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.