Credit Card Isolationism

October 21, 2008

Sometimes it feels that there’s a conspiracy to keep U.S. citizens from leaving the country or even wanting to. In addition to the obvious news media blackout and cultural isolationism (e.g. denying entry visas to world performers), there are passport processing delays, sky-high airfares, a weak dollar, and now… our credit cards don’t even work in Europe.

A year ago in France I had no problem except at train ticket kiosks. But two weeks ago, I was able to use my Citibank Mastercard at only three vendors during a one-week visit. And those had to be convinced to try. I called Citibank and a helpful supervisor explained: Europe now requires all credit cards to have a chip (a gold square embedded in the plastic card) and a pin. These are credit, not debit, cards, and you securely enter the pin at the point of purchase. (The supervisor said she wasn’t informed of this issue until customers started calling in.)

A Boston Globe article and this other good article confirm that I am not alone.

The Citibank supervisor searched her list for a card with a chip and pin that I could get, but found none. According to the Globe article, there won’t be any for a while:

“It would be costly to change all the transaction terminals in the US,” says Don Rhodes, director of risk management policy at the [American Bankers’ Association], “and right now the industry doesn’t seem to feel the level of fraud justifies it.”

Great. To the already compromised reputation of American travelers, we can now add “backwards” and “unable-to-pay”. I wish I could threaten these credit card companies that we travelers might just get used to life without credit cards. But I’d be lying. I want one, and I want it to work everywhere I go.

Addendum 10/22/08: Here’s a more detailed article in the Globe about the debate over the costs and benefits chip-and-pin card deployment. Why can’t the credit card companies offer U.S. consumers chip-and-pin cards with the magnetic strip without immediately updating the U.S. transaction terminals? When in the U.S., the magnetic strip is read, and when in Europe, the chip-and-pin is read. The cynic in me suspects there is no good reason for not doing this, while the idealist in me looks forward to a good explanation, which I will share should I come across it.


A few weeks ago I stayed with friends in Santa Monica. I covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.

This travel-log cata-logs the shops, restaurants, parks, and other things I encountered, some of which you might want to encounter too, if you live there or visit.

I just overheard a visitor to my office saying into his phone:

“Right, I saw that on your Dopplr.”

(Translation for the uninitiated: “Yes, I already knew where you are, because you and I are friends on a new Web site called Dopplr that lets you share your past, present, and future locations.”)

This was a Media Theory Moment, and naturally I turned to this blog for an outlet.

So if we all broadcast our locations and our statuses to our friends and our “friends”, what will we talk about? Will we talk less? Or just repeat ourselves less?

The phrases “Was it you I was talking to about…” and “I already told you about ____, right?” take on new meaning as “tell” takes on new meanings. My Facebook status and my Buddy Beacon update and my Dopplr log are telling you something, but it’s not the same as when I tell you in direct conversation.

Because in the latter, I first have to remember that you exist. In one of many scenarios, you and I are talking, and I mention I’ll be going somewhere, and you tell me, “Gee, so will I! Let’s meet up!”

In the former, I remembered once, a while ago, when I made you my “friend” or you made me yours. From then on, I’m reminded about you by the site we’re friends on. In one of many scenarios, the guy in my office later told me that sometimes he sees in Dopplr that several of his “friends” will be somewhere he’s going to be. Only then does he contact them to meet up.

So we might all see each other more, but we think about each other less. Hmmmm.

I’m sure there’s more theory to consider, but it’s time to go home.

A record of my trip is now live. It weaves personal experience and place names into a guide you might find useful should you ever visit.


Processing and Preparing

August 26, 2007

I’m processing my recent trip to England and France, and preparing to begin tomorrow a position as Product Manager at uLocate in Boston. More on both soon, but here’s a little something for now:

You can see photos of the trip on flickr.

John and I stayed with a friend in New Orleans not too long ago. Thanks to all the people who gave such incredible recommendations, who met up with us without knowing us, who would have met up without knowing us if we were around longer, and to Camille, who hosted us and drove us around and let us get drunk on terrible drive-thru daquiris and take as many photos as we wanted. I have tried to honor the collaborative nature of our trip by detailing where we went in this travel-log. Use it when you go. And you should go. New Orleans needs you.

Photos are soon to follow are up on flickr. Trip post-processing takes time! Maybe I should cobble together a mobile, travel-only implementation of MyLifeBits from the many related services out there. (UPDATE: Apparently and unsurprisingly, this is being worked on.) Or maybe I should just travel more and not worry about it.

In the meantime, please content yourselves with the handcrafted travel-log.