I’ve been paying my bills with iPhones. Not with apps or on bank
sites — I’ve been using the Apple hardware as currency.
It started by accident in December, during a business trip to New
York. I live in Rome, where domestic work comes cheap and
technology is expensive. An unlocked, gold, 32-gigabyte iPhone 5s
that costs about $815 with tax in the U.S. goes for €839 (about
$1,130) in Italy, roughly a month’s wages for workers who do
laundry, pick up kids from school, or provide care for the
elderly. When one worker heard I was visiting the States, she
asked me to pick her up an iPhone in lieu of the equivalent cash
for work she’d done. Lining up inside the Apple Store on Fifth
Avenue, I was surrounded by shoppers speaking languages from
around the world. The salesman looked stunned when I said I wanted
an unlocked iPhone. Just one?