I feel that ISBNs and UPCs are another way to force us into the world corporate economy. We don't actually need them and it's way expensive to register -- and remain registered -- with the issuing body for the UPC (not so much for the ISBN). This obviously favors the larger companies over small businesses. I would label it an unfair business practice.
Although I understand economies of scale, I do not see how this applies to electronically generated numbers. One number should not be more expensive by itself than in a group of a hundred or a thousand. I could understand a set-up fee for ones account but not tiered pricing of the numbers themselves. I can only assume that it is intended as a block for the small business owners.
But the UPC may be obsolete anyway. I'm not talking the bar code part -- anyone can generate bar codes for their own use, though they are becoming an old piece of technology and computers are increasingly capable of recognizing things without them.
I'm referring, in part, to the registration with an official body and being listed in their data base and the rest. With everything so interconnected, it would be simple enough to set up an ID-issuing system and website. Maybe we need an alternative to the 'official' UPC monopoly, something in the same spirit as the Creative Commons effort.
But again, the growing power of computers and their increasing capability to recognize objects without any reference numbers or IDs may make that unnecessary. Why do we need an official ISBN to be listed as a 'book in print?' Books do have titles, after all, and authors and publishers. Giving everything a number is kind of a 20th Century hold-over in this age of tagging and image-recognition.
An aside -- as an 'indie publisher' I do have a block of ISBNs, probably enough to last a decade or two! However, I would never invest in UPC codes for other products -- I simply couldn't afford them. Incidentally, having a UPC and a bar code has never seemed to keep sellers from sending the wrong item anyway. :)
It should also be noted that the ubiquitous smart phones and their relatives are capable of reading bar codes and so on, so the cost of UPC scanners and software is not as big a deal for stores as it once was. It was a sizable investment not so long ago. Now, the cost of having an alternative system available on an inexpensive PC would be almost negligible.
I have come across ThingLink (http://www.thinglink.org) which attempts to present an open network alternative to the UPC. Sort of. It seems aimed more at product sold online than in physical stores and is considerably more complex than a simple database, being more about tagging stuff. I, honestly, don't know much about that. But I think it is the direction we're headed and I intend to investigate using it for my products.
Okay, enough on that. Now, how about an alternative to debit and credit cards? Oh wait, it's called cash!
I use a credit card for most purchases these days. Online, of course (although I could use PayPal were I so inclined), and also for my weekly grocery run. Right now, it's the best way to go because I have to manage both my own and my mom's finances, i.e. I can use my own card to purchase stuff but pay the bill with our joint account.
When I am once again alone -- it will come eventually -- I will most likely go back to paying cash most places. I'm just six months out now from being able to start collecting my 'early retirement' social security so I will have a little more cash coming in. It makes sense for me to go for it at 62. Were I in a normal wage-receiving job, not so much!
It won't be much money but I don't need much. I own this property outright so housing is taken care of, outside of taxes and maintenance. I eat simply and cheaply. Being vegetarian definitely helps the wallet. To be honest, I've sometimes considered just dropping the outside world entirely once my caregiver duties are finished -- no internet, no car, maybe even no phone. I can walk or bike the three miles to Graceville when necessary. Just vegetate with the vegetables here on Peanut Road.
But it's unlikely. I don't care that much about interacting but I do about acting. I need my stage: all the world, as Shakespeare wrote. And there is always the possibility that I might actually make some money off all this more-or-less creative stuff I do.
Well, I managed a bit of a segue there, from UPC codes to retirement plans (or absence thereof). Codes and the future can both be difficult to figure out but there is always a key, isn't there?