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Margaret Heffernan Headshot

Will the iPhone Help You Win Business, or Lose Friends?

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Now you will be able to turn your iPhone into a credit card terminal. When you think about it, credit card readers really only are phones dedicated to transactions, so this newest widget is a brilliant and inevitable example of reverse-thinking. Street traders, farmers' markets and gallery-less will all raise a cheer. And so will I. As an author who regularly speaks miles from the nearest bookstore, it will be thrilling to give my audiences something to buy after I've got them all wound up.

But one thing bugs me. As I scoured the Squared Up website, I suddenly realized the full power of this innovation. It means that, potentially, anyone with a phone is a merchant. Not just writers, artists and farmers but friends and neighbors. You like my necklace? Like to buy it? I'll just whip out my phone. My dog seems to like you and I'm tired of him -- you can take him home for 4200. On Halloween, the kids can ditch the bags and go around with their phones, collecting cards. Better for their teeth, better for the economy. Forget garage sales. I can just wear all the old clothes I want to sell, with a sign around my neck: everything for sale.

Imagine: Every human being a store. Every relationship a transaction waiting to happen. Not in the future, but now. A band's Facebook page may be free and sociable but we all know it's really there to sell downloads, build up a fan base and sell tickets. The email newsletter you sign up for is full of interesting, sometimes valuable information -- but it's also designed to turn you into a customer for life. In a world where every relationship is a potential transaction, how will we know the difference between a friend and a customer?

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