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October 19, 2010 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Life in a Post-Scarcity World a.k.a., 5 Reasons the Future Will Be Ruled by B.S. (SLCRACKED; via)
#5 - A Star Trek-Style Utopia is Already Here ... Sort Of
#4 - To Stay Afloat, Businesses Have to Pretend Unlimited Goods are Limited
#3 - Arbitrary Restriction of Goods Is the Future
#2 - The Future Will Turn Us All Into Lars Ulrich
#1 - Only Bullshit Will Save Civilization
posted by tybeet (104 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
When will scarcity strike Cracked?!
posted by chavenet at 10:44 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


If the future is going to turn me into Lars Ulrich, I'd better get those things off my top shelves now.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:45 AM on October 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Huh. I'm already on a post-post-scarcity present...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:46 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read this last night. An interesting take, I thought. Most of the comment down this road has been on how the future economy would be based on personal creativity (as satirized as whuffies).

But it hadn't occurred to me that there is already a near-term economy of branding and marketing solutions to problems where free goods/services already exist. And those won't be just debates between using things like Exchange/Outlook, Thunderbird or Gmail.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:49 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lately Cracked is turning into a print version of TDS. Why is it that comedy shows & sites seem to have a better understanding than the typical mainstream sources?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:49 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why is it that comedy shows & sites seem to have a better understanding than the typical mainstream sources?

Psychologically speaking, humor is actually a pretty high-level cognitive function, and it takes wit to be witty. My personal theory is that comedy news self-selects for intelligence.
posted by tybeet at 10:52 AM on October 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Wait, how are we getting to the post-scarcity part?
posted by ghharr at 10:52 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is it that comedy shows & sites seem to have a better understanding than the typical mainstream sources?

Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious. - Peter Ustinov
posted by rocket88 at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Were list formats invented to provide an arbitrary scarcity of reasons to appeal to my actual scarcity of attention?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:59 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wait, how are we getting to the post-scarcity part?

1. Keep on populatin' to 9 billion and beyond, continue to rely on burning hydrocarbons for energy, deny anthropomorphic climate change, and dismiss any critics of any of this as hair shirt-wearing martyrs
2. ???
3. post-scarcity!
posted by Zed at 11:00 AM on October 19, 2010 [17 favorites]


The thing is, we don't live in a post-scarcity world, we just think we do.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 11:00 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]




Lately Cracked is turning into a print version of TDS. Why is it that comedy shows & sites seem to have a better understanding than the typical mainstream sources?


Cracked.com has been much funnier than it ought to be for years now.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:01 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read that as "a post-privacy world," which will also be ruled by BS, if facebook is any indication. As our friend-spaces expand, the need to be fake will, as well. The act we act, and all.
posted by Eideteker at 11:01 AM on October 19, 2010


Wait, how are we getting to the post-scarcity part?

The Singularity is salvation gospel for atheists.

Just trust technology to take care of it all and humanity to act completely rational and sane about using technology for the good of all instead of immediate short term benefits with long term costs.

I mean, why would you use evidence of past behavior as any indicator of probable future behavior when you're talking science?
posted by yeloson at 11:05 AM on October 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


Because I've some snob blood in me, I die a little bit inside every time I find myself enjoying, agreeing with, or even capable of finishing any article published at Cracked.

But "Forced ARTificial Scarcity" is brilliant.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2010


If you don't pay for things, how are the people that make those things going to do so to make a living? The author listed Gamestop as an example of "BS", but what about paying for indie games made by small developers, where most of the money goes to them? I guess the BS the author refers to is the feeling that one is obligated to pay for things to support the author. Is that really BS?
posted by hellojed at 11:08 AM on October 19, 2010


From the article:

Anyway, what happens is the mothers mix the baby formula with contaminated water, because sanitation is poor. So why the hell do the mothers feed their infants poison formula when they can just produce milk, for free, from their own bodies? The answer is that they do it because the manufacturer of the formula, Nestle, ran lots of ads telling them to.

What? How about producing "free" milk requires calories that many women in states of malnourishment don't have? I get the thesis here, but using the Third World as an example when talking about the "post-scarcity" world is BS and pretty offensive.
posted by reformedjerk at 11:10 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wait, how are we getting to the post-scarcity part?

Read the article. Interesting points made about electronic books representing a downturn for book publishers and pulp mills. Mid-town New York City commercial real estate will be very interesting in the next 20 years.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Singularity is salvation gospel for atheists.

Futurist libertarians also batshit!
posted by Artw at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Articles like this are what happens when smart people spent too much time on the Internet and forget about stuff like ecology, energy, and the 97% of the world's population that don't have Twitter accounts.
posted by theodolite at 11:13 AM on October 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


Why is it that comedy shows & sites seem to have a better understanding than the typical mainstream sources?

The jester can say things that mere dukes would be jailed (or mocked into obscurity) for saying. And they can simplify things to the point of hyperbole.

There are less "free" things in the world than they say. Lots of things cost money, if nothing else to maintain the infrastructure that supplies the "free" internet-based goods. Everything following the first copy of an eBook are not "free," otherwise that first copy would cost thousands of dollars to recoup the costs involved in writing, editing, promoting, distributing, etc. Yes, it's now available to copy at negligible costs to most people, but that's only addressing the electronic data, not everything that came before.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:15 AM on October 19, 2010


...deny anthropomorphic climate change...

I think you mean anthropogenic! Regardless, the whole point of the article isn't "we are living in the post-scarcity future" ... it's "a number of things that were once scarce no longer are (unless artificial scarcity is imposed on them)."

Physically speaking, raw materials will always be scarce, though how scarce will vary. But information is now freely available and freely distributable, and as a result the traditional incentives to create it have also been removed. We're in a transition period now, where people still produce information in the traditional ways, but with rapidly diminishing returns. The questions are as follows:
  1. What will happen when the natural rewards for creating content disappear?
  2. Will content creation itself ever cease?
  3. And if so, what will the repercussions be for content consumers?
Hence the BS we're seeing now, where content creators are bending over backwards to erect obstacles to their content, to hold on to as many traditional customers as possible (or risk going out of business). The article was spot-on.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:17 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I had to click through to page 2 to read the rest of the article on artificial scarcity?
posted by sveskemus at 11:18 AM on October 19, 2010 [38 favorites]


Wait, how are we getting to the post-scarcity part?

The Singularity is salvation gospel for atheists.

Just trust technology to take care of it all and humanity to act completely rational and sane about using technology for the good of all instead of immediate short term benefits with long term costs.

I mean, why would you use evidence of past behavior as any indicator of probable future behavior when you're talking science?


Exactly. Over at io9, Annalee Newitz had a good editorial on Why the Singularity isn't going to happen. Technological advances solve problems, but they also have problems and complications of their own. The examples in the Cracked article support this very well.

And regarding the singularity, she states:
All I'm saying is that if you're looking for a narrative that explains the future, consider this: Does the narrative promise you things that sound like religion? A world where today's problems are fixed, but no new problems have arisen? A world where human history is irrelevant? If yes, then you're in the fog of Singularity thinking.

But if that narrative deals with consequences, complications, and many possible outcomes, then you're getting closer to something like a potential truth.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:20 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


No, no, the problem with all of the post-scarcity hoorah is that the people who are so excited about it fail to notice that the items which are post-scarce are taking off the top of the pyramid of needs, rather than the bottom. That little pyramid in the article is exactly it, but the bottom tier must be expanded upon.

I cannot source the quote, given that it has been decades since I first read it, but the thrust of it was that one might work as a farmer or a mason so that your children could be engineers and doctors and their children might be artists and musicians. Post-scarcity has hit the top of the pyramid.

Music is one of the arguably one of the first post-scarce items, though those of us who had specialized equipment (Macrovision buster, baby!) to copy VHS tapes that cost ninety frikkin' dollars might have beat the Napster early adopters to the punch, in an underground, sneakernet sort of fashion. Automation has made travel agents, well, certainly not people's first choice, let me put it that way.

Corporate consolidation has caused its own form of unique crumbling in the pyramid. Just last week I came across a locally known radio personality who now had to make ends meet as a night stocker in a store. Here was a man who helped form some of my musical tastes and that of many, many others who are within sixty miles of the city. He gets almost no radio time now. Not exactly our own John Peel, but about as close as this burg could get. I know the apologists will reach for the buggy whip metaphor, but he's a very real person and we simply cannot figure out how he can make money doing what he did so very, very well. I do not suggest that the job of night stocker is a dishonorable one, only that the freedom to shuffle tangerines for minimum wage is not the freedom that post-scarcity promised.

A planned post-scarcity economy would start with food and water, then clothing. Next would come shelter. Heat. Energy. And so forth. At each point comes retraining — as your economic segment becomes automated and nearly free, you have a chance to move up.

Right now, as implemented, post-scarcity looks like the freedom to move down. You're still safe if you are an automator or if you are someone who owns the means of production. The capital, if you will.
posted by adipocere at 11:29 AM on October 19, 2010 [42 favorites]


I think you mean anthropogenic!

ack. yes. oops. Also this morning, I spelled "Necronomicon" wrong. I think I'll go time-out myself until such time as my mind can keep up with my fingers.
posted by Zed at 11:29 AM on October 19, 2010


The Singularity as recursive explosion of artificial intelligence is one thing, the endless double-rainbow utopian vision is quite another. I hold these separate and place my wager on the first being at least theoretically possible.
posted by tybeet at 11:30 AM on October 19, 2010


It's basically a perfectly fine science fiction concept that goes deeply wrong when people start taking it as a gospel prediction of the future.
posted by Artw at 11:32 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another fascinating example of "Forced Artificial Scarcity " would be the California Energy Crisis.
posted by nowoutside at 11:32 AM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


My personal theory is that comedy news self-selects for intelligence.

Explain to me how Larry the Cable Guy came into existence, then.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:32 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the key thing that makes The Windup Girl one of my favourite SF books of recent years is the way you've got this society where people have, or have had, all the cool info technology that the future promises and that could "remove scarcity", and then you have the basic scrabble for carbs and energy to make it all run, because you still need that too.
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on October 19, 2010


Cracked.com has been much funnier than it ought to be for years now.

I thought this EXACT sentence, and then came upon your comment. Singularity, indeed. (Or something)
posted by nevercalm at 11:38 AM on October 19, 2010


"You make money selling your labor. At some point down the line, like his music, your skill as a human being can and will be converted to an electronic format for a fraction of the cost, rendering your skill worthless."

Don't mind me because I'm just bitter but I sometimes think the only people not worried about becoming useless are those who think their are immune from disintermediation. The white collars were content to let manufacturing be automated because that meant cheaper stuff. Wall Street and Main Street are happy with outsourcing. Everyone thinks they are indispensable, until they aren't. Why does it have to be a NIMBY thing?
posted by acheekymonkey at 11:39 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not exactly our own John Peel, but about as close as this burg could get. I know the apologists will reach for the buggy whip metaphor, but he's a very real person and we simply cannot figure out how he can make money doing what he did so very, very well.

Start a blog, like everyone else does.
posted by empath at 11:40 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


the whole point of the article isn't "we are living in the post-scarcity future" ... it's "a number of things that were once scarce no longer are (unless artificial scarcity is imposed on them)."

Physically speaking, raw materials will always be scarce, though how scarce will vary. But information is now freely available and freely distributable, and as a result the traditional incentives to create it have also been removed. We're in a transition period now, where people still produce information in the traditional ways, but with rapidly diminishing returns.


From the article: "Some of you think I'm about to talk about file sharing and DRM and the evil record labels. But that's just a teaser of what's coming. The world has changed. All the rules we were trained to believe about society from birth until now are about to go out the window."

You may just be talking about culture production, but the author is talking about singularity-level nonsense.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 11:40 AM on October 19, 2010


reformedjerk: What? How about producing "free" milk requires calories that many women in states of malnourishment don't have? I get the thesis here, but using the Third World as an example when talking about the "post-scarcity" world is BS and pretty offensive.
This may be an older and more complex issue than you would guess. It's not quite as simple as "Poor people should breast feed" vs. "Poor people can't breast feed." The formula producers aren't just providing an alternative; they defame and in some ways actively interfere with the practice of breast feeding.

But that may all be beside the point. Even if you believe formula is a good solution for third-world mothers, the deceptive and sometimes illegal marketing campaigns the formula producers aim at uneducated audiences justify a mention in this context.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:41 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


"A planned post-scarcity economy would start with food and water, then clothing. Next would come shelter. Heat. Energy. And so forth. At each point comes retraining — as your economic segment becomes automated and nearly free, you have a chance to move up."

Food, water, clothing, heat and energy are not necessarily post-scare now, but in relative terms they are essentially post-scare. Consider how much an average American had to work a century ago to acquire these bottom of the pyramid essentials. I would guess that close to 100% of the average Americans working hours were devoted to making enough money to acquire those goods.
posted by otto42 at 11:42 AM on October 19, 2010


We will never ever live in a post-scarcity world for the very simple reason that time will always be limited.

We, each and every one of us individually, will always have just a few fleeting years to create, to live, to hone our skills in something which we value. To really contribute to the society in which we live in.

I feel very strongly that instead of post-scarcity we are fast moving away from the utopia that seemed to be in our grasp; we do not value content creation like we used to. Instead we equate someone who uses years of talent and hard work to create something truly unique with someone who just puts new subtitles to that Hitler flick on Youtube.

But hey, it's just the internets. Is it? Just?

(And did you see that one where Hitler found about the new iPhone? lol.)
posted by hoskala at 11:46 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Don't worry. It's just a ride.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2010


...deny anthropomorphic climate change...

I think you mean anthropogenic!


No.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:03 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw : It's basically a perfectly fine science fiction concept that goes deeply wrong when people start taking it as a gospel prediction of the future.

Like the teleporter I've been trying to build. I keep telling people that it's going to completely change the world once I have it finished.

So far I've gotten to the scanning and destruction of the target material, the sending and reconstruction part comes next.

Sure, people scoff and say all I've really done is to mount a web-cam to a grill, but I say they just haven't seen the Big Picture yet.

I'll not repeat my Cracked.com accolades at any length. I read two sites every day, here and there. It's good stuff.
posted by quin at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is a non-trivial probability over the next couple centuries that advances in biology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology etc. will enable people to easily create things that we can hardly imagine today.

But it's easy to imagine that one of the things they'll be able to create is "more of each other", and that they'll be able to do it in years or days instead of decades.

How this is going to reduce scarcity, I'm not sure.
posted by roystgnr at 12:09 PM on October 19, 2010


I don't know about the future, but right now the media world is more about convenience than artificial scarcity. Most people know that you can get things for free on the internet but would rather not figure out how.

Say I want to watch the latest episode of Mad Men. I can a)push a button on my iphone and pay 99 cents, b)look on Hulu or the TV set and deal with a couple of ads, or c) go on google, search for the show, download a torrent file from some surely reputable site named "megatorrentuploadersuperspy.com", choose and download a torrent client (a what?), figure out how to load the file into the client, wait three hours, then try to figure out how to get this .rar.mkv.avi file on to my flat screen without having the mind of Stephen fucking Hawking.

Sure, at some point the internet will get faster and the process will get streamlined, but without the infrastructure of moneyed interests I don't see it happening any time soon. For instance - yes, you can get all the porn you want for free right now. But there certainly seems to be no lack of people still making money off of it. (or else why would there be so much?)
posted by fungible at 12:12 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just want to point out that the opposite of Net Neutrality - tiered, fee-for-access internet - is FARTS.

Back when the Intel 486 CPUs shipped, they all had math coprocessors. You could buy a 486 without the mathco - it was a 486 that had the mathco disabled, after initial manufacture. It was more expensive to make, but they sold it for less. FARTS.

By the way, the debate about the third world breast feeding - he was just making a point. While some third world women are malnourished, there was a widespread problem with women who were perfectly capable of making breastmilk not breastfeeding. It's an issue in first world countries as well. In fact, there is little need for baby formula at all - it's really only a convenience item. (Yes, I understand that it can be a vitally important convenience, for example, single dads and working mothers. I have kids. I know.)

By the way, not only is the third world baby formula example a version of FARTS, it's an excellent example of "information asymmetry", where one party in a transaction exploits the other, because he has better information. Information asymmetry is a great way to exploit FARTS.
posted by Xoebe at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is the most interesting discussion on the direction our world is heading I've seen. Lots of great insights here, all around.

I can't help but notice this environment was made possible because mathowie charged us each $5 to join.
posted by JHarris at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


I have to disagree with otto42. Having a scarcity level near zero and having a scarcity level equal to zero are two completely different things. Same is the difference between inexpensive goods and free goods.

If there exists a vast (but still finite) supply of something, it still fits within our existing economic models. But we don't have a model for infinite supply at zero cost.

Until we get our Star Trek-ian matter replicators, food, water, clothing, heat, and energy will be, by definition, "scarce." This is a precise concept with a precise definition, not a vague synonym of "uncommon." It means that the supply is necessarily finite. Even a matter replicator would probably need to be stocked with raw materials unless it could synthesize elements (which would likely come at great energy cost). My point is, scarcity of physical materials is not going anywhere, not for an imperceptibly long time.

That's what living in a physical universe means. It seems more likely that people will plug into a Matrix-like non-physical universe long before matter replicators become possible in the real one. In the Matrix, nothing has to be scarce. Anything's possible in there, but that's only true because nothing actually exists. Illusion will always be cheaper to create than reality; What changes is how great a value consumers will place on it.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2010


(And did you see that one where Hitler found about the new iPhone? lol.)
I think this one, where Hitler laments YouTube responding to take-down notices for Downfall parodies, is the one most appropriate to this discussion.
posted by LiteOpera at 12:20 PM on October 19, 2010


You make money selling your labor. At some point down the line, like his music, your skill as a human being can and will be converted to an electronic format for a fraction of the cost, rendering your skill worthless.

Being an artist who hopes to make some portion of his income off of selling work, I think about this a lot.

I have come to the conclusion that artists will survive as long as people continue to value original creation.

In other words, you could take a photo off the internet and run it through image processing software and print it to watercolor paper and hang it on your wall.   But it will be a long time before a machine will be able to approximate the many little random daubs of color that make up a hand-produced work.   And even then, it will still be just a machine making random dots on purpose as opposed to the "happy accidents" of real watercolors.

I expect that, for a while at least, hand-crafted goods will have a cachet that will keep their creators employed.   That "specialness" may even transfer to original copies, in that the copy was "made" by the original artist, whereas "unauthorized" copies will carry a slight stigma.   Even that's still mildly flattering - "I love this painting, but I can't afford an original so my friend made me a copy".

If you love a band, you go to their shows and buy CDs that they have signed, right?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:23 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know this is meant to be amusing but I'm frankly not amused. My work looks at scarcity as a driver for innovation, and the ingenuity and creativity seen among the billions and billions more who live in challenging conditions and uncertain environments with irregular income streams. I took the job of giving voice on behalf the voiceless in my particular field and frankly I'm getting tired of the b.s. that only looks at less than 20 percent of the world's population and not the planet as a whole. As our environments have shown us, we're all living in the same boat here and how long can we go on ignoring the challenges outside of our comfortable backyards?

Meh.

/end rant
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:36 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Even a matter replicator would probably need to be stocked with raw materials unless it could synthesize elements (which would likely come at great energy cost).

That's an understatement.

The amount of energy that would be required to create a kilogram of mass would be 1000 times more than the energy released in the Hiroshima bombing (8.98755179 × 10^16 joules)
posted by empath at 12:38 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the key thing that makes The Windup Girl one of my favourite SF books of recent years is the way you've got this society where people have, or have had, all the cool info technology that the future promises and that could "remove scarcity", and then you have the basic scrabble for carbs and energy to make it all run, because you still need that too.

Although the novel stacks the deck to make its case; even the author acknowledges that, in the comments to this thread.
posted by frankchess at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2010


The presentation at Cracked is a bit... unprofessional, but they really do come up with some great stuff.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2010


I cannot source the quote, given that it has been decades since I first read it, but the thrust of it was that one might work as a farmer or a mason so that your children could be engineers and doctors and their children might be artists and musicians. Post-scarcity has hit the top of the pyramid.

I think you may be thinking of the following quote by John Adams:

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy."
posted by prodigalsun at 12:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back when the Intel 486 CPUs shipped, they all had math coprocessors. You could buy a 486 without the mathco - it was a 486 that had the mathco disabled, after initial manufacture. It was more expensive to make, but they sold it for less.

That's not true. The chips were tested, and if the CPU worked but the floating point unit did not, then the FPU's connection to the chip would be severed and the chip sold as a 486SX without an FPU. It was a way to salvage partially damaged chips, which is important because failure rates for chip manufacturing are non-trivial. The result is cheaper computers for everybody. People buying 486DX chips with working FPUs benefit from the salvage and people who didn't need floating point performance (e.g. a lot of business users) got cheap 486SX chips.

The process is called binning. For example, a multi-core chip with only one functional core will get cut down and sold as a single core version. Or a chip that can't handle a high clock speed will get clocked down and sold as a slower version. As explained, it's not a trick, and it actually benefits everybody.
posted by jedicus at 12:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Liquidwolf: Cracked.com has been much funnier than it ought to be for years now.

Heck, I remember when it was a lame, low-rent version of Mad Magazine.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So...I am not going to be living in a mandelcube, for free, for ever, with unlimited instances of Giulietta Masina?

* kicks pebble *
posted by everichon at 1:07 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I cannot source the quote, given that it has been decades since I first read it, but the thrust of it was that one might work as a farmer or a mason so that your children could be engineers and doctors and their children might be artists and musicians [...]
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.
-John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.
Source
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:07 PM on October 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


Instead we equate someone who uses years of talent and hard work to create something truly unique with someone who just puts new subtitles to that Hitler flick on Youtube.

I think the argument they would make is that all creative output is derivative. The YouTube Hitler-subtitler relied on the Der Untergang source material, which relied on material from the books Inside the Third Reich and Inside Hitler's Bunker.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2010


99% of the people reading this thread since its inception have tried and failed to come up with a Lars Ulrich joke.
posted by davejay at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2010


The easier it becomes to produce goods in a uniform, mechanized way at low cost, the higher value we will place on goods that cannot be produced in a uniform, mechanized way at low cost. It's a self-correction that works quite well, unless your business is founded on selling low cost manufactured goods sold at high volumes and low margins. Artists do not fall into this category, but manufacturers and distributors do. If you produce music that's profitable on the low-margin high-volume model, you might be in trouble, but if you tour regularly and successfully, you probably aren't. If you produce a widget with a widget-producing machine that your amortize the depreciation on, you might be in trouble, but if you hand-carve things in your backyard and sell them for high fees in a gallery, you probably aren't.
posted by davejay at 1:14 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's fun to remember Aristotle's predictions on this: we need slaves because slaves provide us with the labor necessary to allow some of us to be philosophers, but that technology will ultimately mean fewer slaves and we'll have more philosophers because of it.

Like many things (except dolphins), he's kind of right.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone thinks they are indispensable, until they aren't. Why does it have to be a NIMBY thing?

Terror feeds denial. It's a normal human reaction to want to believe that a given bad thing will affect others, not you. Especially if you also feel helpless to do anything about it.

We think about this a lot, my husband and I. Makes it hard to sleep at night.

The article oversimplifies, in that truly massive unemployment would rapidly have an effect on things like how many people buy iPhones or pay for internet access. At some point you'd have bread riots and unrest. Virtual worlds need actual electricity and users, after all.

This doesn't rule out a Blade Runner future of everybody living in a grimy electronic dystopia, of course.
posted by emjaybee at 1:15 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of people use some of their free time to bypass FARTS to live at a higher standard of living than the artificial scarcity allows (eg people buying the prosumer camera, and trying to figure out how to tweak the firmware to dis-disable the double-price pro features).

I guess that's treading water because it's kind of like having a second job - spending some of your time to earn an increase in the "value" of your stuff, compared to subscribing to FARTS and spending more time at work to earn the extra real money to buy the more expensive copy of the same thing. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 1:29 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked this because it was a humorous take on the subject, but I would caution people against taking the conclusion too seriously.

All goods are scarce because the laws of thermodynamics have not been repealed. Ebooks are free to pirate/copy, but I need very expensive devices to read them on, I need bandwidth to obtain them, and storage to save them. The scarcity shifts from the producer of the book to the ecosystem of things I use to copy the ebook. But there is still scarcity.

The baby formula example at the start of the article is a terrible example. If the danger is that the third-world mom mixes the baby formula with contaminated water, why would we assume that this same mom isn't herself suffering from malnutrition or poor diet as a result of the same third world conditions that led to the contaminated water?
posted by Pastabagel at 1:29 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The result is cheaper computers for everybody.

That may be true for the CPU/FPU situation described, but for implantable pacemakers and defibrillators, all the models are made full-function with fusable connections. To create less capable models, the connections to some of the functions are fused. These models are more expensive to produce, but sell for less. This can be done because the LBM (labor, burden and materials) is only about 10% of the selling price (~$6K for pacemakers, ~$30K for defibrillators).
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:31 PM on October 19, 2010


Pre-internet, a newspaper with 50,000 readers could employ a staff of more than a dozen at a decent income. Now a 50,000 reader blog that pulls in $1000 a month for one person is a rarity.

Most of the jobs you can do with a humanities degree are disappearing.
posted by keratacon at 1:32 PM on October 19, 2010


I think the argument they would make is that all creative output is derivative

People only get away with this argument because they flatten the issue into a binary evaluation of whether or not there's anything at all reused from life or art, which of course, there is, because it's all but impossible to create anything resonant enough to be called art that doesn't re-create some other experience.

But it's more accurate and revealing to realize there's a continuum here. On the far end of creativity you have an ideal nobody ever reaches where you conceived of the mechanisms of realization (basically inventing your own productive/reproductive process) and then came up with a totally original artistic syntax and used it to express unconventional semantics. In the middle you have people using conventional tools/instruments and familiar forms to express some variation on a theme that has probably been explored before with various degrees of craftsmanship. On the only marginally creative end you have people using simplified but powerful tools which someone else made to hide a lot of complexity to essentially reproduce work someone else created with minimal original contribution.

Even a minimal original contribution can be interesting or entertaining, of course, so I don't think there's anything wrong with saying there's value to be had from the marginally creative side of things. But held equal for quality of execution, I also don't think there's anything wrong with calling these kinds of contributions marginal in comparison to the work done and contributions made as you go farther towards the creative side of the spectrum.
posted by weston at 1:40 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.

If, as it turns out, their great great grandsons are more engag'd in Politicks and War than in Porcelaine, it is my hope that they shall instead study Electricity and Logick, that they may invent a Counting Apparatus capable of Communion with other such Machines through the Aether. Thus they may indulge their base Phantasies through Illusion and Self-Pleasure, and thus they also might create caption'd Depictions of their Housecats.


posted by condour75 at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2010 [32 favorites]


Most of the jobs you can do with a humanities degree are disappearing.

...if they ever existed.
posted by goethean at 1:48 PM on October 19, 2010


1. What will happen when the natural rewards for creating content disappear?
2. Will content creation itself ever cease?


If you've studied history, you know the answer.

If you are part of many artistic communities today, you know the answer.

Art doesn't exist because people get paid to make it. SOME particular art does, but not art in general. Art exists because making-art is something that humans do.

If someone started paying everyone to have sex, went on paying for several hundred years, and then said, "I'm going to stop paying soon," everyone would be up in arms! "No one is going to have sex any more if they're not paid to do it." In the end, just the hookers would stop. Everyone else would carry on, because sex is something people do. (I am not equating paid artist with whores, though, if I were, I wouldn't be the first to do so; I am saying that art and sex are core human activities.)

In New York City, 2% of all professional (e.g. in the union) actors are making money plying their trade. But many, many more than that are actually acting. Why do they do it if no one is paying them? Because they are actors. That's what they do.

My wife and I have been running a theatre company here for ten years. I'm a director and she's an actress. Neither of us has ever made a dime from our plays. In fact, we've both spent thousands of dollars supporting our company. (If you think that's a complaint, it's not. That's going to keep on being my lifestyle until I die, and I'm fine with it.)

We also have many friends and colleagues who don't get paid a cent for making art, and yet they keep on making it. Not all artists are willing to do this, and some good ones are not willing to do it. But many are.

Of course, if artists don't get paid, then certain types of art won't get created. My theatre company is never going to produce a 30-actor show with lavish sets and costumes. But ... whatever ... art forms come and go, and at every level there are things you can and can't do. Major Hollywood blockbusters regularly have to cut corners due to budget constraints.

I am not at all worried about the future of art or creativity, regardless of whether creative people get paid or not. It's not going anywhere, as long as there are people on Earth.
posted by grumblebee at 1:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


Explain to me how Larry the Cable Guy came into existence, then.

He is pretty smart. His less smart fans give him a lot of money to be a less sophisticated Jeff Foxworthy. Nice work if you can get it.
posted by spaltavian at 1:58 PM on October 19, 2010


Why did they put the numbered headings in there? This was clearly just an essay, and I was just confused by Cracked's insistence on trying to shoehorn it into the list format.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 2:09 PM on October 19, 2010


David Wong is by far the best author on cracked. Here's a link to his articles.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 2:09 PM on October 19, 2010


I'm sorry, but post-scarcity as a global phenomenon is a long, long time coming. Whenever I read stuff like this I'm reminded of a quote from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (which definitely seems to take place in a post-scarcity future):

In the real world--planet Earth, Reality--there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s. Perhaps a billion of them have enough money to own a computer; these people have more money than all the others put together.
posted by jnrussell at 2:14 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting discussion. Ken McLeod calls the Singularity 'the Rapture of the Nerds' which seems about right.

In re Cracked - it's essentially www.pointlesswasteoftime.com v2.5, which was David Wong's previous vehicle. He's done great things with it - Robert Brockway and Jay Pinkerton are other names to search for on the site if you like things that are both funny and awesome.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:16 PM on October 19, 2010


Ah - that's what I was going to point to. David Wong has done a handful of more philosophical pieces (of which the OP is one). Here are some others.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:21 PM on October 19, 2010


While singularity thinking is certainly a pseudo-religion, I don't think the core argument about an end to scarcity is false.

Either we will survive not only our current troubles but also our future ones, in which case technology will continue to advance and we will develop post-scarcity fabrication technology, or we'll suffer a catastrophic collapse, over 90% of the human population will die, and the remainder will grub in the dirt for anything edible they can.

Continuing at our current point isn't undesirable, it's impossible. We must either keep climbing the technology tree or we'll fall down to, at absolute best, a feudal level.

Assuming we don't wind up grubbing in the dirt and thinking wistfully about the good old days when carpal tunnel syndrome was a big problem, we will have to deal with post-scarcity eventually. Maybe not in my lifetime or yours, but eventually.

I think the big point, and possibly the most disturbing one, is the one adipocere pointed out, post-scarcity is coming to the top of the pyramid first. Outsourcing and early industrial automation hit the manufacturing class a bit back when it first started happening, but we still need factory workers, resource extractors, etc and will for some time to come. I don't know if that means we'll be looking at a temporary collapse of art or not, I hope not.

It should have been predictable (after all, which is easier to reproduce for essentially zero cost, sound waves, images, and text or physical goods?) that the creative professions would be the first hit by the problems of post-scarcity, but as a society we seem to have overlooked that until it smacked us in the teeth.

Ultimately, as automation and close to zero cost production moves down the pyramid it will start causing problems for a lot more people. And then we'll have to abandon capitalism and build a new economic system.

I think we could make some intellectual headway on that future problem if we gave serious concern to the problem of the creative people and FARTS. Because FARTS isn't going to last, it can't. Eventually we're going to have to admit that while a great deal of effort goes into creative works, it takes zero effort to endlessly reproduce them, and despite that somehow the creative person needs to make a living.

Because sooner or later it'll take a great deal of creative/engineering work to come up with the plans for a thingamabob, but it will take essentially zero effort to endlessly reproduce it, but the engineers still have to make a living.

More important, due to their greater numbers, the non-creative masses who used to do the manual labor, who used to manufacture thingamabobs also need to make a living, and that's the part that is going to drive the die hard capitalists up the wall. Creative/engineering types will still be needed to do the design; they and they alone will be working, in the traditional sense of the word, long after automation has put every manual laborer out of a job. But not everyone is a creative/engineering type, and they've got to eat too.

We're moving in the direction of having not merely high unemployment, but a large permanently unemployed and unemployable population. What really worries me is that before this is recognized, before we give up the ghost of capitalism and move on to the economy that the new technology dictates, we'll have food riots, mass homeless problems, and possibly even starvation before we realize that "does not work means does not eat" isn't a viable or reasonable position in the world brought about by the new technology.
posted by sotonohito at 2:22 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I took the job of giving voice on behalf the voiceless in my particular field and frankly I'm getting tired of the b.s. that only looks at less than 20 percent of the world's population and not the planet as a whole. As our environments have shown us, we're all living in the same boat here and how long can we go on ignoring the challenges outside of our comfortable backyards?

As someone who has spent a good deal of his adult life trying to solve problems in America, this kind of screed turns more people off than on. Why do I care/think about the first world? Maybe because all my friends, relatives, neighbors live in the first world. Maybe because (almost) every institution that I've invested myself is based in the United States. Maybe because there are problems HERE that matter and I can do something about.

In my work and interactions with unemployed people in the United States I have noticed patterns following parts of this article--that is, mechanization and efficiency have taken jobs. Warehouses no longer need Union employees because they have computers. There's no need for meter maids in certain areas because of computerized meters. The middle class jobs of bookkeeping, manufacturing, etc no longer exist because one person can do it all with software and machines. And so America has 9% unemployment. Where are these hardworking people with skilled labor experience going to get jobs?

So you "give voice to the voiceless." Congrats. This guy has a voice too, and he's choosing not to use it to talk about "the voiceless." He'll talk about what he wants to talk about.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 2:27 PM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I personally think that the future doesn't lie so much in "FARTS" but rather artisan craft and artifact economy. If you're an indie music fan, you've noticed the new trend of handcrafted tapes. Metafilter is currently advertising handmade ipad cases. It's possible to create scarcity by making the salient feature of a good the fact that it is handmade.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we may be beanplating FARTS, here, folks.
posted by everichon at 2:37 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


before we realize that "does not work means does not eat" isn't a viable or reasonable position in the world brought about by the new technology.

The organizational leaps always lag the technological leaps. The growing pains, they will hurt. The real worry should be whether the next organizational form resembles democratic principles or the other kind.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 2:50 PM on October 19, 2010


The presentation at Cracked is a bit.. unprofessional

What do you mean? They have a professional white background, don't they?
posted by webmutant at 3:34 PM on October 19, 2010


fungible: Say I want to watch the latest episode of Mad Men. I can a)push a button on my iphone and pay 99 cents, b)look on Hulu or the TV set and deal with a couple of ads, or c) go on google, search for the show, download a torrent file from some surely reputable site named "megatorrentuploadersuperspy.com", choose and download a torrent client (a what?), figure out how to load the file into the client, wait three hours, then try to figure out how to get this .rar.mkv.avi file on to my flat screen without having the mind of Stephen fucking Hawking.

Sure, at some point the internet will get faster and the process will get streamlined, but without the infrastructure of moneyed interests I don't see it happening any time soon. For instance - yes, you can get all the porn you want for free right now. But there certainly seems to be no lack of people still making money off of it. (or else why would there be so much?)


That reminds me of the informertial where they tried to convince you it was hard to boil water and make pasta. If you really think it is complicated, feel free to google it.

And the porn companies are taking an absolute bath. They still have income, obviously, but their profits are down in a way that makes publishing look fucking rosy, and companies are scaling way, way back or folding all over the place. Debatably it is actually worse than publishing, because pretty much none of these people have advanced degrees or respected-by-society work experience to fall back on.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2010


Positional goods. Always scarce. Do you own the Mona Lisa, or do I?
posted by alasdair at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2010


paisley henosis I've heard that a lot of the loss the porn industry is suffering comes from the rise of amateur porn more than from piracy, though obviously piracy is a big problem for the porn companies.
posted by sotonohito at 4:42 PM on October 19, 2010


Goddamn this is depressing.
posted by vibrotronica at 5:06 PM on October 19, 2010


At some point, someone will actually invent a quality translation device. Soon after that, software will be created that actually bridges Japanese and English. And then I'll be fucked. It's going to happen, probably sooner rather than later. The only serious question I have is whether Japan as a whole will wake up and realize that speaking Chinese is going to be a hell of a lot more useful than speaking English before the translator gets invented.

While I am fluent in B.S., sadly I'm only effective at it in English. People here always wonder why I use the "yeah, I fucked up and bought" a house ending to the verb "to buy." This would be a good part of the reason.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:16 PM on October 19, 2010


I am still waiting for CARtoons to regain its veneer of intellectual credibility.
posted by benzenedream at 5:42 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Both the article and many of the comments here seem to be stuck on the question of "but how will I find gainful employment in a post-scarcity world?" It's rare that you can actually call an argument "begging the question" but this is it. In a post-scarcity world, you don't need to work. That's the whole point.

Presumably there would still be some sort of economy, since some things will always be scarce. Someone's house will be in the best location. Someone will get to have the real Mona Lisa in their living room. But I think people are overestimating how many of these things there are, and how important they really are to 99% of people.

The assumption of singularity is one of sociology, not technology. We're swimming in energy, using only the most minuscule sliver of what's available. Similarly, the theoretical maxima of computation and molecular manipulation are vastly beyond anything we are currently employing. Given continued technological progress, post-scarcity will happen. The main obstacle, as sotonohito points out, is our tendency to fuck things up.
posted by bjrubble at 6:07 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're swimming in energy, using only the most minuscule sliver of what's available.

Sure, but the reason we can swim in it is that's not very dense. To date, all our technological expansion has been built on the back of a very, very dense energy source that the earth thoughfully stockpiled for us for several million years. It's not at all clear to me that any form of renewable energy can be made sufficiently dense for the whole world to profitably exploit the surplus at the levels we have been used to exploiting, to say nothing of further growth.
posted by Diablevert at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


That article wasn't funny at all. It was alternately terrifying and depressing.

(Possibly relevant: I'm a freelance writer. I pretty much exist solely on FARTS.)
posted by ErikaB at 7:03 PM on October 19, 2010


jeremy rifkin wrote about a post-work society a while back, of which bob black responded w/ a great (if cynical) critique; it's nothing new of course -- cf. marx & keynes and more recently peter drucker's age of social transformation -- but between delong's admonition that:
We cannot approach utopia in terms of material welfare because we can always imagine how increased resources could give us a more comfortable and rewarding life. Or perhaps it is better to say that from the standpoint of every previous century we have surpassed utopia, but failed to stop and properly appreciate the accomplishment.

An equally important answer, of course, is that Utopia does not require merely command over nature. It requires command over self, and command over society as well. Command over self is a matter of psychology. [W]e have not achieved utopia -- in spite of immense material wealth -- because we have approached it as a problem of engineering, and it is in fact a problem of psychology.
and black's caution "that work is essentially about social control and only incidentally about production," then maybe the way out is to radically restructure our 'economy' around FARTS (like the post-human 'seals' do in vonnegut's galapagos ;) and the only reason we don't/can't is a failure of (collective!) imagination.

15 years (and several books) later rifkin is back to rectify matters, essentially advocating altruism and cooperation to create an empathic civilisation :P

cheers!

---
also btw...
- Robots are taking Middle Class Jobs
- The Technology-Driven Consumption Trap
- You have nothing to gain but free time
- Differential Pricing and Efficiency
- The Role of Inconvenience in Designing Social Systems
posted by kliuless at 8:42 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


adipocere: Right now, as implemented, post-scarcity looks like the freedom to move down.

This.

It seems to me there are two distinct types of post-scarcity being talked about, which are interrelated but often conflated or confused.

One involves the mass production of cheaply-produced physical objects (e.g. bottled water, baby formula) and the other involves information.

High-end Maslow pyramid function-targeting products are becoming post-scarce because they are fundamentally ethereal products of the human mind. Anything that can be converted to a long string of ones and zeros is and will continue to come under increasing deflationary pressure. That includes most forms of reproducible media, many services, automated or algorithmic processes, and most financial/legal/management/administrative/analytical functions. Even much of what we now think of as 'research' or 'science' will probably be handled primarily by computer programs in the future, if it isn't already. Take a look at the high frequency trading down Wall Street way.

The other type of post-scarcity - the cheap production of food, water, housing, etc; the basic requirements for human life - has already been automated to such a degree that it could have been post-scarce for a couple of generations now. It's an oft-quoted statistic that the world produces more food than it's population can consume, but we tend to waste so much through poor logistics or economic shell-games that the system is massively inefficient. Apparently Tokyo, where I live, dumps 35% percent of all food unconsumed, mostly due to restaurants and stores which don't sell their products and are legally and econo-socially bound to respect the best-before dates printed on the packaging.

I can't see any of this changing any time soon. The only thing that will allow true post-scarcity of physical goods production is Star Trek-like atomic replicators (or whatever) that are cheap and freely available to all. And imagine the wars that will no doubt be fought before that kind of thing becomes a reality...

I work as a translator, and of course I'm very aware of the slowly creeping technological automation that may one day wipe out my field. I'm hoping that the AI research necessary is still far enough over the horizon for a few more years yet, though. (Glares with hostility at any resident AI researchers ;p)
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:37 PM on October 19, 2010


I suspect that the mass unemployment scenario that sotonohito lays out upthread will not come to pass for the simple reason that the owning class of society has throughout history enjoyed having servants. Specifically human servants, specifically because bosses get off, in one way or another, on bossing people instead of just bossing machines.

Welcome to the service economy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:51 PM on October 19, 2010


While singularity thinking is certainly a pseudo-religion, I don't think the core argument about an end to scarcity is false.

It's all too easy to demonstrate that an end too scarcity is impossible.

For example: say we do manage to get those magical atomic-manipulation fabricators. OK, fine: I want a 1 trillion ton sphere of titanium. Now I want Hong Kong- yes, the whole island. I want everybody moved off so I can drop that 1 trillion ton sphere on the island.

Not enough, I say. OK, I want the entire Earth. No, not a perfect replica, not a virtual copy, I want the original Earth, and I want you to move everybody off it. And then I want to send the Earth careening across the solar system to collide with Mars. As a performance art piece (If Earth is uninhabitable, then I'll substitute the most popular and highly populated planet or colony).

And I want it all done in a week.

So do I get those things?

If not, then there is no end to scarcity.
posted by happyroach at 10:24 PM on October 19, 2010


Am I the only singularist(?) here? I never thought of myself as a naive optimist, but maybe I need to reconsider.

Diablevert: To date, all our technological expansion has been built on the back of a very, very dense energy source that the earth thoughfully stockpiled for us for several million years.

Earlier in the thread there was quoted the figure of 8.98755179 × 10^16 joules per kilogram of mass. Fossil fuels are only dense in comparison with the other relatively meager extraction technologies currently within our grasp. Every second, the Sun puts out 10,000 times as much energy as all the known oil reserves in the world. It's not that the energy isn't out there, it's just that we don't know how to harness it. That's a technological problem, not a foundational one.

happyroach: I want a 1 trillion ton sphere of titanium. Now I want Hong Kong- yes, the whole island. I want everybody moved off so I can drop that 1 trillion ton sphere on the island.

Post-scarcity is not omnipotence. Nor does it imply coercive power over others. It just means the ability to produce at nominal cost all that one needs to live comfortably.

This is far from our where we are now, but everything we currently consume can be seen as a product of energy and information. Energy is plentiful if we can learn to extract it. Information is far more valuable, but -- and I think this is my main disagreement with both Cracked.com and Metafilter -- that seems to be one of the few things that doesn't require monetary incentives to produce. Art, science, literature, software -- all of these things positively flourish in an environment that pays in prestige rather than cash.
posted by bjrubble at 12:02 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


bjrubble: I see a problem with harnessing a significant amount the Sun's energy output. First of all the solar winds create a protective sphere around the solar system that isolates it from the interstellar medium, and we don't know the backslash of removing that.

Then there's a dissipation problem. If you channel all this energy for fusion (more mass), you are effectively adding mass to the Earth. At a large scale this is disruptive, as it means an orbit change (period or distance to the sun). If you channel all this energy for fission (less mass), same thing. The only middle ground is to transform matter into other matter with no significant mass change ; that sounds OK in principle, but how do you control this worldwide?

Just so say that claiming "singularity will allow us to capture the sun's energy and solve our energy problem" does not make all problems go away, it merely creates new ones.
posted by knz at 1:38 AM on October 20, 2010


Post-scarcity is not omnipotence. Nor does it imply coercive power over others. It just means the ability to produce at nominal cost all that one needs to live comfortably.

But in the West we did this a century ago. Clearly we don't feel like we're post-scarcity. So I don't see how things will be different when we just have more stuff.

I live better than the Emperor Augustus, as does pretty much everyone reading this. But we're still operating in a scarce economy because there are always scarcities (like land) and positional goods (like unique works of art or particular schools) so we won't be happy from more technology/wealth. If wealth makes you happy then Augustus was happier than me, because he had more relative wealth than I do, even though I have better teeth, longer life, more books, better food etc. etc. etc.

You're a singularity guy, so you're a science guy/gal? OK, let's put this another way. We perceive position and relative wealth more than absolute wealth because we're competing for mates and successful children, not against some absolute value. So we might both have the latest watch which tells perfect time, but you have the wealth to get the limited-edition watch while I can only get the perfect but free watch. You'll be sexier than me. That part of our psychology isn't going to go away. We always measure position and our relationships to others, and that's always scarce.
posted by alasdair at 1:41 AM on October 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not that the energy isn't out there, it's just that we don't know how to harness it. That's a technological problem, not a foundational one.

Sure, I guess. But I don't see that it being a technological problem implies "and therefore, we shall inevitably solve it." I think to a very large extent we fail to appreciate the free ride we've been getting as a species for the past 400 years or so. After all, they started mining coal in England because the were running out of wood. Nuclear power is about the only true advancement we've had, energy wise, that allows us to unlock tremendous amounts of energy from very little matter with comparatively little energy invested. And the despite tremendous advantages nuclear has, it has not entirely replaced fossil fuels in a number of contexts in which it could, because of its tremendous negative externalities. (The US still get 69% of its electricity from fossil fuels, including 44% from coal, as opposed to 20% from nuclear.) The industrial revolution was powered not merely by the ingenuity of man, but by the ingenuity of man applied to a nearly infinite source of free energy.
posted by Diablevert at 3:58 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you channel all this energy for fusion (more mass), you are effectively adding mass to the Earth. At a large scale this is disruptive, as it means an orbit change (period or distance to the sun). If you channel all this energy for fission (less mass), same thing.

Both Fusion and Fission leave you with less mass than you started with, and more energy.
posted by empath at 5:55 AM on October 20, 2010


99% of the people reading this thread since its inception have tried and failed to come up with a Lars Ulrich joke.

"They tried and failed?"

"They tried and died."

(What? I love Dune!)
posted by dendritejungle at 6:42 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


happyroach I think your objection falls into "not even false" territory.

"Post-scarcity" doesn't mean "literally infinite resources", nor does it mean "some random person has the right to kick everyone else off the planet for grins and giggles".

It just means that the problems of manufacturing have been pretty much completely solved and that both necessities and consumer goods have an essentially zero cost.

The Wikipedia article is a pretty good introduction to the topic.
posted by sotonohito at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2010


Just so say that claiming "singularity will allow us to capture the sun's energy and solve our energy problem" does not make all problems go away, it merely creates new ones.

That's not what I said. I just noted that there's a lot more energy out there than what we're currently using.

But in the West we did this a century ago. Clearly we don't feel like we're post-scarcity. So I don't see how things will be different when we just have more stuff.

We're not even close to post-scarcity, and never have been. What's more, the argument of post-scarcity is that it's an inflection point -- drawing a straight line from "I can buy lots of stuff" to "I can make almost anything for free" ignores the basic argument, which is that the latter condition is fundamentally different from the former.

If wealth makes you happy then Augustus was happier than me, because he had more relative wealth than I do, even though I have better teeth, longer life, more books, better food etc. etc. etc.

I never said you would be happy. Nor am I arguing that post-scarcity will do away with the notion of status or ambition. I'm simply arguing that:
1. Post-scarcity will probably happen, barring technological collapse.
2. The concerns of Cracked and many posters here (ie. "what's in it for my livelihood?") assume an environment of labor/wealth/capitalism -- that is, precisely the environment of scarcity that post-scarcity is not.
posted by bjrubble at 10:09 AM on October 20, 2010


"Post-scarcity" doesn't mean "literally infinite resources", nor does it mean "some random person has the right to kick everyone else off the planet for grins and giggles".

It just means that the problems of manufacturing have been pretty much completely solved and that both necessities and consumer goods have an essentially zero cost.


It figures that Singularity fans will misuse a basic definition. Honestly, don't you people have any idea what the term "scarcity" actually means?
posted by happyroach at 3:39 PM on October 21, 2010


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