I got my change from Del Taco at lunch and noticed brilliant pink writing on the back of a dollar bill. It said:
Please enter my serial number at www.wheresgeorge.com. Follow my journey through the ockets and cash registers of America.
So, having actual work to do, the first thing I did when I went home was follow the directions.
What I found was a site that does allow you to track where your currency has been. It's actually kind of a cute idea, and potentially fascinating, in a way that only goofy stuff on the internet can be.
Entering the serial number on my bill popped up a screen containing the following (dated April 4):
My dad's money. He'll probably spend it tomorrow on lunch somewhere in downtown Salt Lake City. Thanks for finding and entering this bill.
It also told me that this bill had traveled 220 miles in 148 days.
Unfortunately, that is where the paper trail for my bill ended. I tried the other bills in my pocket, and none of them had been tracked before.
This actually intersects with some pretty serious economic theory. Naryana Kocherlakota, a monetary theorist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has pushed the idea that money is memory. Money is intrinsically useless (you can't do anything useful with it, like say, eat it). Money is only useful in that it can be used to buy other things that are intrinsically useful (like lunch from Del Taco). So, why should we use something intrinsically uselss to buy things that are not intrinsically useless, when there are a whole raft of other intrinsically useful things we could use as money? Kocherlakota's take on this is that money is a form of memory (another intrinsically uselss thing). More specifically, we acquire money as a reward for work that we do. It is nice to have a memory of that work, but it is hard to buy food by telling people that you remember working hard in that past, and therefore deserve to be fed. But, if you augment that memory with money you end up with a full belly. In some sense, wheresgeorge.com is documenting the memories inherent in specific bills.
I touched on the money is memory idea in a post about a month ago called "(Money Is) Memory Is Sex".