The Cost of Convenience

It’s begun. Facial recognition can be used to pay for your groceries at Carrefour, one of the bigger supermarket chains in China. It’s done through the two most popular mobile payment apps, Alipay and Wechat Pay.

Facial recognition payment is only available at self check-out counters so far. 

Facial recognition payment is only available at self check-out counters so far. 

Blue is Alipay and green is Wechat Pay. I try to only go to the supermarket during the off-peak hours and love using self check-out counters (cashiers here have a tendency to be quite heavy-handed with your groceries). These machines popped up a couple of weeks ago and they’re super simple to use. The only issue is that the facial recognition payment feature is only available to Chinese nationals, I still have to scan my QR code. But the machines do operate in English and another bonus is that no one throws my groceries around.

I find it convenient, as do those aged 16-35. However, especially those who are 55 and older, the pace of the technological advances is leaving a lot of people behind. I know that this doesn’t just apply in China but also in western countries with the growing use of online services instead of personalised services. However, here, you can buy, transfer, order and pay for almost anything through your mobile phone. It’s phenomenal to think of the amount of transactions the country goes through in one day.

Here’s what Christoph and I do with our phones on a regular basis;
- Mobike app to ride a share bike, top up the balance through Wechat
- ride the subway and bus with the subway card on our phone. Top up through Alipay or Wechat
- ride Didi car service, which is the Chinese Uber, and it gets paid through my Wechat account
- in almost every shop and restaurant, we can pay with Alipay or Wechat
- order take out and pay when it arrives with either Alipay or Wechat
- order groceries and pay when it arrives with either Alipay or Wechat
- send and receive money from friends through Wechat or Alipay
- pay the doctor bill with either Alipay or Wechat

Did I forget something? My wallet? Well it contains cash that not many vendors accept anymore, so not much use in carrying it with me these days. The past two years have had us experience the speed at which technological convenience has advanced that I can leave the house with nothing but my phone. House keys perhaps? No, soon our building will install facial recognition screens to gain entry so no worries there. The cost of all this convenience, of course, is that my daily habits are there for all to see. Lucky for me, I’m ok with that; it’s not like I have anything to hide.