Square, the three-year-old mobile payments company—recognizable by a cute plastic quadrilateral that some vendors put on their phones so they can swipe credit cards—has come up with a brilliant new way for me to send cash to my friends. It's so adorable and simple that it entirely hides the cynicism of friend-paying.
Indeed, Square Cash is alarmingly simple. Download the app and instantly you’re asked how much money you're looking to send to someone.Enter your dollar figure and it comes up in a prefab email, return address “Square”; address it to someone and send. Then and only then do you enter your debit-card number, as if as an afterthought; so you’ve agreed to pay before you’ve chosen a stash to draw from. Your payee is alerted that he’s got $2 or $2000 if he’s willing to give up his debit-card number. If and when he does, the money slides into his account. From your debit card—formerly known as a “checking account”—to his.
There is no third-party holding-money depot, as there is with Venmo, another money-exchange app. You don’t even create an account. No overly-strong password to forget. No adding “friends.” No bank numbers. And no fees or surcharges!
PayPal—the stodgy grandpa of online payment services—has all kinds of shortcomings, but makes it as clear as a seasick-green personal check what’s going on when you use its homely interface. You’re paying. Or, sometimes, getting paid.
Not on Square Cash! Square is for “sending money to friends.” For services rendered? For an old motorcycle jacket? For your shortfall at California Pizza Kitchen the other night? So they won’t take your weird salvia antics to Instagram? Square Cash doesn’t say. It just assumes that you have a deep need to send your friends money. And maybe you do.
Square Cash, apart from how simple it makes parting from your money, is not a disruptive idea. Instead it's true to the Internet's primary purpose. The Web is not for education or entertainment. The Web is for exchange—like a rialto or the NYSE.
Everyone who understands this principle succeeds, including Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, and Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and the other PayPal founders. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, the founders of YouTube, started at PayPal.
With YouTube, they delivered another high-volume, high-velocity exchange like PayPal, with videos as the currency. When YouTube launched, everyone was looking for ways to do media and entertainment online. Hurley and Chen offered a “video-sharing Web site” that from the start encouraged viewers of videos to become producers, and vice-versa. Exchange. Instagram works the same way: not a photography site, but a photo-sharing service.
When Jack Dorsey of Twitter—a comparable exchange for epigrams and links—launched the original Square in 2010, he made paying and getting paid by credit card seem like a friendly, unsuspicious process. Now Square Cash takes it to email and doesn’t require that one or the other party “take credit cards,” which increases the sheen of friendliness tenfold.
But the digital world is unnaturally fixated on friendship. Not colleagues, bosses, parents, spouses, children, foes, clients or customers. Friends. Is this because the developers are young lasses and bros who travel in postcollegiate packs of peers? Why else would they be so solicitous about how to connect with friends, bang their friends, share with their friends, tag their friends, untag their friends and friend their friends?
Friendship is or ought to be the least transactional relationship—grounded in good will and generosity, humming along in reciprocal affection, without the money pressures of the workplace or the emotional pressures of domestic life. But to hear developers speak of it, we’re all awash in friends.
Maybe the assumption of Square Cash is not that you have so much cause to send money to your preexisting friends. It’s that, once you send them cash with Square Cash, they become your friends.
Square Cash: an easy new way to buy friends. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.