I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 8/14/2012 | 35 comments

Sara Peters
It wasn't until I'd spilled my armfuls of items onto the counter that it occurred to me. I didn't have enough pound notes left in my wallet to buy everything. I'd have to use my credit card -- my antiquated magnetic stripe American credit card, unequipped with the sleek chip-and-PIN technology used in Scotland (and, well, nearly everywhere else in the world).

Last week I was vacationing in gorgeous Edinburgh, Scotland. Once I remembered that my credit card was rather old-fashioned, I apologetically informed the young saleswoman behind the shop counter that my credit card didn't have chip-and-PIN, and if she couldn't accept my old magnetic stripe card I'd come back with cash.

She looked at me as though I were speaking a different language, and it wasn't just my American accent that was confusing her.

The fact is, she'd never encountered a magnetic stripe card before. So the shop owner and I gave her a patient, motherly hands-on history lesson about the humble magnetic stripe.

It was rather precious. The young woman feebly tapped the card on the card reader machine. The shop owner kindly explained that tapping wouldn't work because the card had no chip in it. She explained that she'd have to slide the card through the slim scanner on the side of the machine, to which the young woman said, "I'd always wondered what that thing was for."

The young woman's confusion only increased as the machine started printing multiple receipts. With wide, wary eyes she watched the machine spit out several slips of paper. The shop owner gestured to me, saying, "Now you give her one copy to sign." Receipts in shaking hands, the girl said "Which? Where?"

I offered my help. I pointed to the merchant's copy with its tell-tale "sign here" line. I signed my name with more care and less speed than I normally do, as though the girl also needed a lesson in writing signatures.

The shop owner instructed the young saleswoman to check the signature on my receipt against that on my card, to make sure they matched. Then she said, "We keep this one," sliding the merchant's copy into the cash register, "she takes this one," handing the customer copy to me, "and then we're done."

Upon the utterance of the words "we're done," the girl was visibly relieved. Then she quickly turned away to wrap up the delicate items I'd purchased, clearly happy to return to a familiar task.

The shop owner and I smiled at each other. I apologized for the trouble and said that we really don't use chip-and-pin in the US. "Strange," she said. "America's always ahead of us with this sort of thing."

"Not when it comes to banking technology," I grumbled, shaking my head.

So American banking CIOs, I've been going behind your back to distant lands disparaging your work. How does that make you feel? Considering that the story I just related took place in a small owner-operated shop that sits literally in the shadow of a 15th-century castle, don't you feel just a bit silly delivering technology that they consider old and obsolete?

Also, a question for brick-and-mortar retailers in Europe and abroad: Do you still accept cards that aren't equipped with chip-and-PIN? If so, are your younger staff completely befuddled by them? Let us know in the comments below.

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PamR   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/29/2012 10:27:39 PM
Re: Why ?
Of course, if Americans just got out and traveled the world a bit, they'd realize that we're not No.1 in a lot of things. Paging Will McAvoy.

Our inability to jump ahead seems odd--I do wonder where our gumption and drive have gone.

This is the second American in Scotland story I've heard today. My niece, who is studying in Scotland, was rather condescendingly remarking on on a prescription comment I'd posted on Facebook. She offered to buy the medication and mail it to me, figuring it could be done faster than my prescription manager company would allow.
CMTucker   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/19/2012 10:57:10 AM
Re: My Daughters
Angel good examoles. I often think it may be because they have no previous analog and therefore no biases on how things are 'supposed to work.' So each experience they absorb more, and create the biases that will one day have them saying the same thing to their kids!
angelfuego   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/18/2012 10:53:40 PM
Chip and Pin
I wonder when the U.S.A. will convert to the chip and pin method, rather than the magnetic strip. My guess is that it will be sooner than later.
angelfuego   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/18/2012 10:48:45 PM
Re: My Daughters
CMTucker, I bet kids in that age group are not familiar with a cassette tape, VCR or a Walkman either. They probably haven't seen anyone use a phone booth, phone book, or 411 either. It's amazing how much more technologically advanced some kids are than adults. In essence, they have a whole different world at their finger tips, unlike previous generations. Days of the encyclopedia and renting books from the library for a paper are ancient. Kids are quite tech savvy. My niece was on google earth trying to locate the north pole to see Santa's workshop. I also know a girl that emails her Christmas list to Santa.
Broadway   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/17/2012 2:57:55 PM
Re: Why ?
Beautiful place. Highly recommend going to Scotland, particularly in the couple months when the weather is somewhat decent. Try September.

The conversation reminds me of a friend whose husband was obsessed with Scotland. He was cynical about the US, its society and politics, and decided he wanted to leave. Scotland was going to be his utopia. Not sure how he settled on Scotland. But he and my friend ended up taking like a three-week vacation there, to experience utopia first-hand and start looking for places to live, etc.

Turns out Scotland is not utopia. It is a nice place. But no utopia.
CMTucker   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/17/2012 9:14:36 AM
My Daughters
My daughters have never known a world without a cell phone, a laptop computer, wireless internet, emails, and social media. My daughters don't even know what a rotary phone is, and when they saw one they had to guess what it was. They've never had a land line. 

Eleven and nine years old.
kstaron   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/16/2012 5:01:15 PM
Like a rotary phone
Tech changes, just like a rotary phone. My kids have a toy one, but they've never seen a rotary dial phone and expect they never will. I find it amazing that the credit card companies haven't switched over given how much debt your average American carries. I wonder how much it cost the banks to switch over compared to the fees they charge on an average credit card bill?
keveend   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/16/2012 11:02:11 AM
Re: I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth
Hi Henrisha,

Where do you live? I live in Sri Lanka and we don't have the chip and pin technology yet. I haven't actually seen one of those things.
keveend   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/16/2012 10:46:11 AM
Re: Why ?
Wow. When you say it like that, you make us want to go there. I always knew that Scotland is a beautiful country. One thing I love about the United Kingdom is all the castles that it has and the history interwoven with the country. I have never gone there but I would definetely like to go there one day to see all this from my own eyes.
keveend   I Teach Tech History to Scotland's Youth   8/16/2012 10:43:55 AM
Re: Why ?
Interesting. So now you live in the States? Anyway, that kind of development can only be seen in countries like Scotland. I live in Sri Lanka and we seldom see develpoment. I'm not saying that it's not there completely. It's progressing at a very slow pace.
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