The idea started as a joke -- write a satire about the formation of the International Society of Card Carriers. After all, what is more a mark of modern life than the plastic and papers cards bulging in our wallets? It’s something most adult Americans have in common.

There are numerous credit cards, debit cards, health plan cards (sometimes one for dental, one for medical), health club cards, membership cards, cards to open the main doors to buildings, cards for individual offices, bus tickets, subway passes, many of them with magnetic stripes for swiping through a device to allow entry or record a purchase. Perhaps it’s a conspiracy by wallet manufacturers to ensure that their products wear out from the pressure of all the cards.

For some time, the thought has crossed my mind that technology can solve this seemingly unimportant issue, which really is important because it’s one of those day-to-day pains that affect us all. How do we get rid of all those cards? And when we solve that problem, how do we get rid of all the passwords to all the Web sites we need to visit?

The answer to the latter awaits a solution. The answer to the former is the Universal Card. This will probably smack of a national ID card for our anti-government friends on the left or right, but why not have a single card, which can be encoded with information that now goes into the ever-expanding wallet?

This would necessitate some common device that enables users to load the data. Perhaps this could be a printer option that allows downloading of data from Web sites with the end user swiping the magnetic strip in order to load information. Maybe the telephone companies can add this capability to pay phones to justify their continued existence.

Credit card vendors, who are already good at extending credit to people who really don’t need it, or trying to hook card holders with purchases of dubious utility, could not only provide data with credit limit information, current balances, but they could also add options, such as 10 percent off with a minimum purchase of $250. Cards could periodically be recharged (after the cardholder receives an e-mail with a notice that new information is available.) In case of loss, consumers has access to a supply of blank cards that can synch up with the data suppliers, who can track lost and stolen cards and provide access through a security chip that generates a random number (like SecureID does). This could solve the password problem, your card is associated with a file on your favorite computing device that merely needs to have a User ID, with the encrypted password automatically generated and feeding into the logon. (And why be old fashioned, maybe data gets to the card wirelessly?).

You have to figure that this is not a novel idea -- somebody is probably trying this out in the lab somewhere. It just makes a lot of sense. And as to the organization of the International Association of Card Carriers, we’ll be ready -- as soon as we print some cards.


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