A few weeks ago, I made a trip to a Bank of America ATM in order to deposit two checks. But, when I looked for a tethered pen to do the arithmetic, I found that it was missing. "What kind of monster," I thought, "would steal a pen from a public place?"
Then, I noticed the bright red writing on the back of the deposit/payment envelope: "Written Information No Longer Required for Processing." The envelope had a bright red "X" emblazoned across the area where we used to write our names and enter the totals.
With today's technology, writing the amount on the envelope is nothing more than a placebo, making us think that there's some industrious worker in the back office opening envelopes rather than a highly automated process driven by ATM software, customer databases and image recognition technology.
Skipping the scribbling-on-the-envelope step represents a formidable leap in banking technology. Now, we don't have to wait in line for the one working pen. No longer will we have to watch someone struggle with the complexities of "carrying the one."
But, then I feared that the bank had reasoned it could remove the pens entirely. I mean, why maintain a fleet of pens when customers don't need them to make a deposit? Just as the cell phone led to the demise of the public phone, improvements in banks' back-office technology could lead to the death of the public pen. What happens when we want to write down someone's phone number? Address an envelope? Or endorse a check?
I spoke with a Bank of America representative about this pressing issue. She pointed out that the no-scribble envelope already was in place across other areas of the bank's footprint, and that it's just new to former Fleet customers.
More important, the pens are back. I was quite relieved to find that their absence was the work of some anarchist pen thief rather than the fruit of some senseless bureaucratic missive - because the public pen is what separates us from the enemies of freedom. Long live the pen!