I think of Venmo as the social network that drank truth serum: It reveals who actually hangs out, who eats together, and who lives together—and who exchanges money in the process. If aspirational Instagram is a sort of creative nonfiction, then Venmo is a cold splash of logistical facts.
From the voyeuristic viewpoint of my Venmo avatar, I can see whose plans were dashed, which futures nearly materialized, which siblings are back under the same roofs, who seems to be socializing outside of their immediate households, who’s renting and watching movies together (Contagion, but also Little Women and Last Days of Disco), who’s collecting donations for a cause, who’s paying fitness instructors for streaming classes, who’s getting their groceries via FreshDirect, whose mom sends a little cash in trying times, who commissioned a designer for assorted bachelorette party paraphernalia, which couples divvy up their grocery and dinner expenses, who was still having sushi with friends while others were already referring to their groceries as “COVID-19 stuff.”
Looking back now, the line of demarcation between our old lives and these strange new ones is clear: On March 10th, people still think they’re going to a college reunion weekend in June or a wine tasting next weekend (having gone to karaoke the night before). On March 13th, the cancellations start, and the vernacular shifts—to refunds, to changes of plans, to grocery shopping in the face of the unknown, and the inevitability of the utility bill. I can’t imagine a better tagline for Venmo than “a penny for your thoughts.”
Graphics by Lorenza Centi.