All posts by Philip Yaffe

Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA's daily student newspaper. He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. He is author of 14 books, which can be found easily in Amazon Kindle.
Bitcoin transaction to credit card. Currency exchange concept

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Credit cards and beyond

The first part of this two-part blog, published last month, explored the fundamental ideas of money. Here are some key things to bear in mind as we continue our exploration of this endlessly fascinating subject.

  1. Money is a universal token (metal coins and paper bills) having a value that is expected, but not guaranteed, to be stable over time and is trusted by the people. This trust is usually established by a national government issuing and standing behind its currency (dollars, euros, francs, kroners, pounds, pesos, etc.).
  2. Money is a great facilitator of exchange transactions (buying and selling), the core of commerce.
  3. Money has no intrinsic value. Even when money is equated with silver or gold, the value of money can fluctuate with the prices of these metals.
  4. Money must move quickly and seamlessly from one place to another in today’s largely integrated worldwide society, which was not previously the case in local, largely isolated agricultural societies.

In short, to a large extent, the legitimacy and value of money is whatever a national government says it is.

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Benjamin Franklin close-up from one hundred dollars bill

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Money Moves

The theme of this series explores items that have become so integrated into our lives that we barely notice them; yet have completely transformed how we live. The first item in the series was the elevator—try to imagine modern high-rise cities without them. The second item was the pre-printed adhesive postage stamp—try to imagine sending and receiving letters and other things through public postal services without them. The third item was going to be about money, specifically the credit card. This  little bit of plastic  ensures we  always have access to money to buy virtually anything we want virtually anywhere in the world. Continue reading

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: The Adhesive Postage Stamp

“Wait a Minute Mr. Postman” (The Marvelettes) and “Return to Sender” (Elvis Presley) were two major pop hits of the 1960s. Among many others songs, they tell the story of young lovers desperately trying to communicate with the object of their affection via hand-written and posted letters.

Wooing and winning one’s teenage heartthrob through hand-written letters! To many of the modern generation, this must seem like a quaint, and perhaps even crazy idea. With email, SMS, social media, and other electronic revolutions in communication, no one would rely on “snail mail” to achieve such an important purpose.

However, in a certain sense the humble hand-written letter, and the humble adhesive postage stamp used to send it on its way, represent a more far-reaching revolution in human history than all of these new-fangled electronic communication media combined. The adhesive postage stamp truly deserves a place of honor on my list of “extraordinary ordinary things.” Continue reading

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: The Elevator

There’s a widely accepted principle about technology adoption. When a new technology is introduced, people are aware of it and   learn how to use it. After a while, people come to embody the practices of using it well and are no longer aware of it. It is just part of our world. We no longer notice how we ever lived without it. Some say this principle is characteristic of the computer age. However, this did not originate with computers. It has always been the case with revolutions in daily life. Those who see the revolution taking place are unlikely ever to forget it. Those who see only the effects of the revolution often don’t fully recognize and appreciate it. I call examples of this phenomenon “extraordinary ordinary things.” For me, the most undervalued extraordinary ordinary thing is the elevator. Continue reading