Students Should Give Mobile ID Cards Time

When I got my Mobile ObieID on my first day at Oberlin, I was thrilled with the convenience of the new technology. The ability to get into my dorm, order meals, and check out books just by tapping my phone against a card reader sounded incredibly convenient. No keeping track of a thin little piece of plastic, and no fishing that plastic card out of the abysmal depths of my back right pocket (or was it my back left pocket?) whenever I need to buy some food or pick up my mail. Cut to me now, three weeks later, racing through the night and praying that my phone will cling to its one percent charge for just a little bit longer so that I won’t be locked out of my dorm. These digitized ID cards are no longer the immaculate innovation my starry eyes had originally gazed upon. 

Despite the moment of terror I experienced at the hands of Oberlin’s new mobile IDs, I firmly believe that their central flaw is not a deep-rooted one. In and of themselves, mobile IDs are not a bad idea. Most people with a smartphone carry it around with them at all times. Combined with the fact that so many young adults already keep important cards on digital wallets, it seems natural for mobile school IDs to be the next step. Moreover, it’s easier to keep track of a phone because of its physical size and weight, and because of the various apps that exist to help smartphone users locate their device (like Apple’s Find My iPhone or Samsung’s Find My Mobile services). Students with a Mobile ObieID can also check the Transact app to immediately see how many meal swipes, Flex Points, and Obie Dollars they have left. Finally, the same environmental factors that have played into an increase in digitized syllabi and class resources are relevant with ID cards. Although the quantity of plastic used in the manufacturing of ID cards is not enormous, it isn’t negligible. 

With that being said, there are a host of valid reasons why many are still concerned about the potential ubiquity of electronic IDs. If these are to be accepted campus-wide, one major fault is their discriminatory nature. Obviously, having a mobile ID requires having a smartphone. While the vast majority of Americans do have smartphones — especially young Americans — not everyone has one. If you do have a smartphone, the convenience of using your mobile ID depends on which type of phone you have. At this point, the Mobile ObieID technology seems to strongly favor iPhones — and specific models of iPhones at that — which is a particularly big problem when it comes to using the ID after one’s phone has died. According to the Center for Information Technology, only students with an iPhone XS, XS Max, or XR have the capacity to continue to use their phone as an ID after it has lost all of its charge, meaning that Android users or iPhone users who don’t have these particular models are out of luck. Some people may also not have the storage space to get the app they need for the mobile IDs to work, and because smartphones are made slightly differently depending on the country, some international students may have trouble downloading the right version of the app. Of course, there’s also apprehension about the potential for glitches that accompanies any new technology. The difficulty in this case is that any sort of malfunction would mean not being able to get back into one’s room or eat dinner. 

These are some glaring issues, but as mentioned previously, this doesn’t necessarily mean that as a whole, digital IDs are a bad idea. The main problem has been their implementation. At the beginning of this semester, Oberlin students had to give up their physical IDs or forgo the new Mobile ObieID, which is why so many have been against switching to this new technology. Oberlin is forcing people to put all their eggs in one basket, which is worrying given that there are so many things that could go wrong that no one can predict at this time. The students who have chosen to use mobile IDs are essentially guinea pigs, and there are real risks being taken with that decision because of how necessary it is to have a working ID on this campus. In these early stages, Oberlin and the ID Card Office should be less focused on phasing out the physical cards and more focused on ensuring that the digital cards can successfully replace them. If they really want digital IDs to be part of Oberlin’s future, they should be focused on building trust in the software rather than forcing students to choose between the old and the new. 

Ultimately, I would suggest allowing physical and mobile IDs to coexist, at least briefly. I understand that there could be security concerns if each student has two IDs, but it would allow the new technology to be tested and improved with fewer risks on the part of students, and it would make people that much less anxious about using the digital IDs. It’s not a perfect solution, but perfect solutions rarely exist, and for now, the College should at least somewhat adjust its current strategy.