I was at a sporting goods store today when the salesman reminded me that my debit card contains an RFID chip. I had read about it when I got the card years ago (which says BLINK on it with a wireless-signal icon), but had never acted on what I’d read for fear of damaging the card.
I’ve changed a lot as a person since then, and it figures that I got the tip in a sporting-goods store, where one finds more outdoorsy right-wing tendencies. Once I’d chuckled at stainless steel wallets that purport to block scanners from stealing your information, but only because it was the usual “solve a product problem by buying another product” purchasing-Ponzi scheme. Suddenly I was irritated that this RFID feature could compromise me. I’d never used the chip because I buy very little in person, and never in a consuming frenzy where I’d rather save 4 seconds by waving instead of swiping.
The sporting goods salesman pointed out where the chip was and said I could disable it with a hammer blow. The Internet has plenty of lo-fi video examples of people exercising their rage at the exposure to “thieves” (as opposed to my ire at push-consumerism) with awls, microwave ovens and holepunches. Youtube videos document where the chips are and the antennas that amplify their signals. I spread my 3 cards out on the table, found their chips, and perforated them all with a hammer-driven Philips head. Only one had no chip. I was careful to use a demagnetized screwdriver against a wooden block.
A couple of hours later, I was buying produce. The line was long, and I panicked when my debit card wouldn’t swipe. I fumbled with my wallet trying to find the one card I hadn’t punched, and the cashier asked for my debit card. She wrapped it in one of those diaphanous produce bags and ran it twice; the transaction registered the second time. Everyone was very impressed at this resourcefulness.
The cashier had not known what a pomegranate was, but she knew how to circumvent a hitch in the technical matrix that mediates our every gesture—as I had tried to do. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.