Personal finances are something typically kept very private. Usually, the account owner and bank teller may be the only people to ever lay eyes on an account’s bank balance. While this is still largely true, social media is offering our friends ever more insight into our personal finances. In the old days most transactions were done in person with cash. Eventually they moved towards credit cards, and finally we have begun to remove the physical aspect altogether. Creations such as apple pay allow people to pay with their smart phones and smart watches.
For now, these transactions are private. One place in particular that has changed immensely is the interpersonal payment landscape. No longer do I settle transactions with friends via cash or check. When I owe a friend a few bucks, all he has to say – or better yet text – is “Venmo me” and moments later he’s got his money. This all seems incredibly convenient and normal, but there is a rather unique aspect to this platform which was nowhere near as present in other payment platforms such as Paypal (Venmo’s parent).
On a Friday night when I stay in watching a movie on Netflix or am looking up cute cat videos on Youtube, I will occasionally take to social media to see what I’m missing out on. I might check out my friends Snapchat stories, look down my Facebook newsfeed, scroll through Instagram, and in a certain kind of mood I may even check out LinkedIn. Once I am thoroughly dissatisfied with my own Friday night I will have accomplished a sense of “FOMO” (Fear-Of-Missing-Out).
Those were all the traditional ways that millennials kept tabs on their friends. In a peculiar shift, personal payments are now becoming a way to tell your friends what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. Venmo has a decidedly social component that we haven’t seen from it’s peers, a feed of all your friends’ spending. There’s no better way to say you’re having fun than to pay your best friend. $10 for “Drinks at Tavern in the Square!” Not only has the term “Venmo me” entered our ordinary vocabulary, a new term has begun to emerge called “Venvy.” Venvy is the sense of jealousy or FOMO that you can get from scrolling though the Venmo newsfeed and seeing what your friends did last night.
There’s no doubt that the fun, social aspect of sending a public quirky message along with your payment has been a large part of Venmo’s success. Suddenly there’s a payment app that gives you a reason to log on with no intention of spending or receiving money. When all my transactions were private, there wasn’t much terribly interesting for me to look at on my banking app. Now I’m logged on just to see what my friends spend money on.
I find this open platform both startling for its lack of privacy as well as the degree to which its users don’t seem to care. At times I have even seen people pay rent on Venmo, offering a startling insight into that person’s living expenses in a very public forum. While I know most people use do exercise some discretion in choosing which posts are made public and which are not, the old tradition of personal finances being personal is fading away.