Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
December 4, 2002:
Carte blanche on and off campus or a new way for parents
to keep tabs on their kids? I'd been noticing the signs recently,
posted in a few shop windows around town. Under the picture of a
Princeton student I.D. (a young woman with a particularly sunny,
un-I.D.-card-like smile), the words read PAW POINTS ACCEPTED HERE.
Rather cryptic, I thought. Were these establishments hoping to bring
in readers of the Alumni Weekly who had "points" to make?
Lord knows a glance at each issue's letters column would suggest
that there are more than a few alumni out there wandering the streets
ready to vent. Still, that seemed a little far-fetched, even for
as engaged a community as Princeton. I mean, no business wants to
bring in that type of clientele.
I made a few inquires and learned that, rather than discourse,
these "points" are a matter of commerce. According to
the web site ppoints.com, Paw Points are the "cashless way
to pay on and off campus." Essentially, it's a way to turn
one's Princeton I.D. card into a pre-paid debit card. You put money
into your Paw Points account and then, when you make purchases on
campus at Frist, say, or the U-Store or off campus
at any participating vendor, you just whip out the card and, bingo,
you're on your way, hands unsullied by bills, pockets unburdened
with change. There are even, I learned, some discounts available
to Paw Points users. It all seemed very slick and convenient, especially
for a student whose parents were the ones making those "easy
deposits" into the account. And, make no mistake, that's the
arrangement Paw Points is pitching. The website even provides a
handy chart showing a typical student's spending per term, broken
down into the categories of textbooks, school supplies, restaurants
(and delivery!), university apparel and entertainment. Two different
dollar figures are offered in each category. The first under the
heading "minimum," the second under "optimum."
(Not "maximum," you notice, but "optimum"
they might as well have changed "minimum to "cheapskate.")
Here, it seemed, was yet another example of how spoiled today's
college students are, their day-to-day life on campus transformed
into a sort of ivy-draped ClubMed experience. Why not just give
them beads to pay with and be done with it?
But then, suddenly, I saw what was really being sold here.
On the "For Parents" page of the Paw Points website
was the earnest promise to mom and dad that they will like the card
because "it keeps you connected to your student's Princeton
Now, in my day, we didn't want our parents connected to our college
experience, if you know what I mean. We were busy making other connections
and we would just as soon the folks knew nothing about them. Money
from home was more than welcome, of course. But back then it came
in the form of a check. Which we would then cash, leaving us free
to determine our own spending levels on, er, entertainment, without
any detailed statement being electronically forwarded to the 'rents.
Ah, but this is the information age. Should little Johnny '03
or little Susie '04 decide one Friday night that 14 Miller Lights
at the Annex add up to an "optimum" total and, cashless,
pay for the bacchanal with Paw Points, there will be some messy
Paw prints to deal with come the end of the month.
It's worth noting, too, that Paw Points aren't just for students.
Faculty and staff, as well, can sign up to use their I.D.s. According
to Joe Carnevale, of the Annex restaurant, it may be a hard sell
with the former. "Most of the faculty who come in for lunch
or dinner just sign their check and we bill their department,"
he says. "It's going to take a while to break them of that
habit." That, I guess, is the point of Paw Points: There are
no free lunches.
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" firstname.lastname@example.org