Venmo’s Social Currency

There’s boredom and then there’s the level of boredom someone reaches when they begin to swipe through their Venmo feed. Certainly, it’s not a level of desperation that would lead them to Facebook, the wasteland reserved for everyone’s aunts and uncles and parents to entertain themselves with.

Venmo’s an extremely practical app. It handles money so it really has to be, but underneath the surface of people sending over their rent for the month or repaying their part of the tab one brave soldier offered to put all on their card, there’s a unique kind of social media platform lying dormant. Maybe I’m not that special and plenty of people actively peruse the endless feed of money transactions to see what their friends and those they haven’t seen since high school are up to. I find it odd that an app dedicated to transferring money, an app that has its own credit card that warrants some percentage of cash back, is as publicized as it often is. Again, I thought this over and realized someone could easily just switch that Public option over to Private, but where’s the fun in that? Let the people know you offer to pay for everything or have an insurmountable amount of debt. At times I feel the lone feed of payments can be better than Twitter.

Much like any social media platform there’s contingents of people you’ve met once or twice, acquaintances, and your closest friends all boiled into one pot. What I find interesting about Venmo is the app’s unseen ability to be a real depiction of a person’s activity without anyone actually noticing. It’s sending money. Until now I’ve never really thought about who else could see that I venmoed (I’m using this as a verb, I feel like it’s appropriate and quite common in our vernacular) my friend under the line of best crystal meth in town!, yet I’m sure a multitude of the friends I have on the app witnessed this virtual transaction. This made me consider what those people who browse Venmo’s feed think when they see some of the questionable transactions being sent through. Do they see this as a reality? Do they craft stories about what’s happening in their Venmo friends’ lives?

So, as any good person with more than enough time on their hands does, I did some digging. My research—as thorough as always— brought me to the conclusion that Venmo is an interesting foray into this unknown territory between the illusion of social media and the real, concrete nature of sending currency to someone else. It’s credible and bogus. An announcement with an actual dollar value attached. It’s banking with social media, arguably a great testament to the lengths many will go to have their lives be documented for others to see. 

According to an article from The Verge, Venmo once had a global social feed, a constant stream of transactions viewable to the rest of the world. I’m not sure who created Venmo, but the fact that this even existed to begin with seems like a terrible idea. There’s no way anyone was bored enough to stumble down a road of completed transactions from strangers. While this may have been part of Venmo’s initial intention with their app, it’s perplexing to imagine anyone other than people seeking to steal information from susceptible people would utilize this feature. 

In a time where social privacy comes at a premium, why would an app that handles money make every single transaction not labeled Private available for the world to see? Of course, Venmo got rid of this feature in 2021, yet there still remains a breadcrumb trail of visibility stemming from the app, an access point, the Achilles heel in the way our lives are often framed through our presence on social media. Perhaps, much like Jurassic Park taught us, just because we have the ability to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Maybe this is the case with a form of social media banking: is this information that needs to be publicized?  

I’m sure most people would argue that if there’s any fear surrounding their privacy one could easily, again, press that button and get behind the safety of the Private button. And this is the case for almost every other app: you have to understand the risks of being involved within the world of social media when you enter. It’s a two-way street. Surely some can become voyeurs and watch the whereabouts of their friends, but this removes the social aspect from the social media title. If anything, behind the iron curtain of the private option these apps become another show that we ingest on a daily basis. No involvement. Simply kicking your feet up and watching the events of life unfold.

Venmo’s social feed is growing on me with this understanding. Surely there’s not a large amount of security behind what is shared, but then again, a lot of things seem to be that way. And if that’s how someone doesn’t want to live their life there’s a simple answer to that issue: don’t do it.

When I’m bored—and I mean really bored, like, dig through your Emails kind of bored—there’s some solace in the Venmo feed. It’s not consciously considered a direct shout into the social void as many see it as, and there’s a trace of interest knowing this. Scrolling through a feed that isn’t as notable feels like digging through the scraps of someone’s life, seeing the little details, the reality of an everyday life all of us share but few reveal without a filter. If we are so reduced to staying connected through this medium then following each other’s monetary habits may be the road to travel down. I just hope Venmo never flags the descriptions for each transaction. Leaving us to captivate our meager audience with a completely false description of what we are paying for is truthfully the only saving grace for having banking be a form of social media.

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