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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 11:03 GMT
Cardboard cards stop Russians drinking
You can hear Jon Wurtzel every week on the BBC's Go Digital
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over developments in the world of technology

Innovative smart cards have proved a widely popular substitute for cash in the town of Gorlovo in the Kostroma region of central Russia.

Usually, you would think of smart cards as pieces of plastic with embedded memory chips. But the cards in Gorlovo use distinctly non-digital technology.

They are made out of cardboard and marked with a stamp.

Gorlovo, like farming communities throughout Russia, has seen its standard of living fall precipitously since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Money going on vodka

This cluster of 10 villages ekes out a hand-to mouth existence by producing dairy products, meat, bread, and selling small amounts of timber.

While the inhabitants tend to blame capitalism for their worsening economic condition, they point to another issue as a destructive force in their community: vodka.

Credit cards are getting more advanced
Cards are usually made of plastic
Vodka drinking has had such a huge impact on the people of Gorlovo that families often go without food, as the main wage earners spend all their money on drink.

But the community may have been saved from destruction by holding on to the Soviet-era collective system. Collaboratively, the residents produce and share enough goods to effectively, if not luxuriously, get by.

They have also developed an innovative response to the problem of alcoholism.

Innovative use of cardboard

Residents are largely paid for their work not in cash, but in a system of credit specially stamped into cardboard smart cards.

They can then use their smart cards to purchase food at the local store, along with other items like cigarettes and chewing gum.

It is a matter of children having something to eat or not.

Valentina Koneva, Gorlovo resident
One thing they cannot buy with these cards, though, is vodka.

"It is a matter of children having something to eat or not", said resident Valentina Koneva.

The cards have been particularly popular among the women who count on them for the nutritional well being of their families.

As the residents of Gorlovo have demonstrated, the success of technology depends largely on the surroundings in which it is used.

Digital debit cards may work as cash and passes for the London Underground, or to make phone calls from a booth throughout the world. But, in the places such as Gorlovo, cardboard smart cards hold their own as a technologically successful and innovative interface.

You can hear Jon Wurtzel on Go Digital, which is webcast on BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT. Or you can listen to the programme on BBC World Service radio on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
See also:

21 Feb 02 | UK Politics
'Smart' passport plans mooted
13 Jun 01 | Business
Smart money goes multilingual
08 Feb 02 | Business
New anti-fraud cards on the way
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