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 experience."

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" paw@princeton.edu