Futurology, Technology, Opinion

Post-scarcity

There are many different ways to discuss “post-scarcity”.

The traditional idea is that all material goods are available at no cost, kinda like the replicators in Star Treks TNG and DS9. However, even in the Trek universe, replicators used power, and this allowed replicator rationing to be a plot point in Star Trek Voyager.

Even without a magic Santa Claus machine, you could say post-scarcity happens per-resource and per-location, rather than as a single one-time-covers-everything event. I would argue that Switzerland is post-scarcity for water because it’s available for free in public fountains throughout the country.

By the measure “does it have second-hand value?”, the G7 is post-scarcity for biros and paper, because nobody keeps track of which biro belongs to who or cares if someone steals a pen or a sheet of photocopier paper.

You could even say the G7 is post-scarcity for cups, because you can’t give them away (I’ve tried) — you only pay money for cups because you want that one in particular or you can’t be bothered collecting the free ones other people are throwing out; likewise, the G7 is post-scarcity for hairbands because there are enough clean ones lying on the street you never need to buy them (that observation courtesy of the ridiculous degree of penny-pinching thriftiness which I inherited from my father).

There is at least one more category: things which we have so much of that we harm ourselves by having it. Artificial light — light pollution is a a thing; Food — obesity and conditions associated with it cause 14% of premature deaths in Europe; Communications — spam, personalised propaganda, attention economics.

I wonder what the world would look like if we all had too much of the very things we still strive for precisely because they are not attainable. What could “too much room” in our houses even mean? How could we “travel too much” or “learn too many things”?

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