Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

The Digital Divide and Futurist Imaginings of Zelle‐ous Resistors

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Abstract:  The “digital divide” is widely acknowledged as exacerbating inequality by leaving some people on one side or the other of a knowledge divide without access to appropriate tools for the future and all the opportunities that digital technology promises. Attempts to understand this gap tend to focus on issues of trust, levels of financial education, and digital skills, mainly seeking to understand why some individuals and groups—who are mostly assumed to have minimal financial know-how and digital skills—do not trust either online financial institutions or exclusively app‐based finance. Considering the large investment in fintech solutions driven by these industries, and the practical features designed in part to make the user’s life easier and user experience more intuitive and reassuring, it is worth noting that such queries are inclined to conclude that these untapped users cannot imagine a digital future due to their own lack of digital skills and lack of exposure to tech. This article suggests that, for a portion of this population, many of whom are digital natives, this is not the case. instead, they can invest in understanding and adapting to technology and do so. Yet they are uncomfortable with the “instantaneousness” of some transactions because this doesn’t allow them enough time to address a problem or have recourse for anything unforeseeable. Furthermore, their interest in fintech’s inclusive platforms is foreshadowed by their vivid futurist understandings and imaginations. Indeed, they envision precisely the kind of digital significance that is often assumed that they do not. However, this article argues that the key difference is that many envision the future as a digital dystopia and are resisting what Lauren Berlant refers to as “cruel optimism.” These types of imaginings motivate many to resist the vulnerabilities that they believe can make them overly dependent on technology in ways that they believe can potentially place them at risk. This article focuses on the US multi‐bank‐owned Zelle payment system and its online and app‐based banking features as a case study to illustrate these points. It further argues that the inclusivity that online digital banking platforms aspiringly offer is often viewed by potential users not as a portal toward equality but rather as “a leap of faith” toward digital dependency and future vulnerability.

Keywords:  cash; cruel optimism; data privacy; digital divide; dystopia; financial inclusivity; fintech; future imaginaries; glitches; hacking; P2P payments; scams; trust; Zelle

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v11i3.6867


© Daniela Peluso. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.