I made a casual remark about my wallet one day in class at the college where I teach. Only later did it dawn on me how much the mere fact that I carried a wallet dated me.

The reality is many of my students do not carry wallets; everything they need is on their cell phone.

Whereas I carry credit cards, store reward cards, my business cards, my cash, and that receipt from the coffee shop that I can redeem for a dollar off a latte, they simply carry a phone. Their phone holds their methods of payment, apps that track their retail rewards, and digital contacts. I stand and count my lose bills to see how much I have; they click to access their bank accounts and know an immediate figure.

My actual age aside, I wonder if it’s my habits that date me.

Let’s play a quick game of “Would You Rather?” Think which you would rather lose: your wallet or your phone.

I’ve lost a phone. On vacation in South America, it somehow disappeared in Peru between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. I was upset—for about an hour. Then I shrugged it off. I had misplaced it, and traveling internationally with a planned itinerary didn’t place me in a position to look for it—which was okay. I had contacts written down at home, photos backed-up digitally, and nothing else I couldn’t retrieve or get elsewhere. But what if I had lost my wallet?

Let’s just say I wouldn’t have missed the ascent to Machu Picchu, but maybe I would have delayed it looking for my beloved Esprit trifold.

The question of loss and this quick “Would You Rather?” exercise illuminates a larger trend that has been sweeping educational institutions. What happens when technology replaces our stuff?

Students don’t take hand-written notes; they use a laptop. They don’t page through books; they digitally scan them. They don’t do research in a library; they search digital databases.

The same argument of “new” technology replacing “old” has been around for decades: binders replaced by digital files, handouts replaced by projectors, blackboards replaced by whiteboards replaced by smartboards.

So why am I bothered that my students don’t carry wallets?

Maybe it’s simply because I do carry one.

Who can predict how technology will change us in the future, especially in the educational realm? Until then, I’ll continue to use what’s comfortable for me: good leather. Compartments. A functional zippered pocket.

I just can’t expect my students will use the same. I need to realize that when my college students claim they don’t have cash, I should believe them.

They haven’t a wallet to put it in.

Audrey Wick teaches English at a community college in Schulenburg, Texas, a town of about 2,750 residents in southeast Texas.

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