Minecraft, 3D printing and scarcity

(via Boing Boing)

This video discusses the possibility of a post-scarcity economy -- it says it's a time when stuff doesn't cost anything to make, that acquiring things doesn't mean someone else has to not have those things anymore.

I don't think that post-scarcity has to mean that there's no cost -- I think it's functionally post-scarcity as long as there's so much available material that nobody who wants anything has so little access that they can't get it.  Less end of scarcity, more perpetual surplus.  But maybe our understanding of quantum physics will get us to the point where we actually can pull new stuff out of the fabric of the universe.

Mark Frauenfelder, who posted this video on Boing Boing, wrote a similar article independently a few days ago on My Life Scoop.  It never occurred to me to think of Minecraft as representative of a post-scarcity economy, but now that I consider it, there are no other online fields I'm aware of where there's any version of the game in which anyone just gets everything.

I think at this point we're at the beginnings of a post-scarcity world.  We're already past information scarcity, in a broad sense.  The only limitations on information are artificial resistance like secrecy and limitations on an individual's capacity to understand.

Post-Industrial

I'm watching Cory Doctorow's Google talk again, and there's a great bit in the first ten minutes where he talks about "The Information Age," which is just the industrial age with a different descriptor tacked on.  It's not really something anyone can make sense of, it's just something people think is a thing because we call the newest technology "Information technology." I've been playing around in my mind with a different model of the age-system of conceiving of the past, present and future.  I'm borrowing from philosophy, here:  the latest 'age' in philosophy, just sort of ending now, is post-modernism.  But post-modernism isn't really ending, because post-modernism is, basically, "Everything after Modernism."

Modernism, like every branch of philosophy, is hard to capture in words.  It's easier to explain than define.  But broadly, it's (a.) a shift in central question from "What is true?" to "How do we figure out what's true?", and (b.) a shift from the perspective of continuous, static society to the perspective of progress -- of things getting "Better," the narrative of myth-to-reason.  The guy to look at for (a.) is Descartes, and for (b.), Hegel.

Post-modernism is even harder to explain than modernism, and I'm far from qualified to make any really definitive statements.  But where modernism suggested singular avenues of increasing progress, increasing systematization, and further and further unity of perspective, post-modernism is a more fractured, diverse, and, frankly, utility-based set of views.  Modernism would say "X is true."  Post-modernism would say "X is a useful perspective for analyzing this particular situation."

I think what we're looking at coming up is not a new entity-focused era, but an era defined by the absence of, or contradiction of, previous entities.  We're not looking at an "Information age," we're looking at a post-industrial age.

At least, that's how it looks to me.  I think it's a pretty useful perspective for analyzing this particular situation.

Information Scarcity and YouTube

If I were born just now, and plugged into a 24/7 machine that did nothing but play YouTube videos, in order of their upload, starting with the second of my birth, and I lived to be 80 years old, I would get through almost a week of videos. YouTube announced late last month that, as of their seventh birthday, May 21st, 72 hours of video was being uploaded per minute.[1. Via Boing Boing]  It's not all deeply engaging, intelligent content, but if 1% of it is, that's about 45 minutes of awesome material a day.  I think the percentage is much higher, especially if you look out for a variety of users tuned to your different interests.

And YouTube is free.  I mean, there are ads, (more on that later,) but the users don't have to pay to use the website.

This raises a lot of questions about the nature of our access to information.  I think it can be defensively argued that YouTube, and Google and Wikipedia and Khan Academy, represent the first practical manifestation of a step into a post-scarcity economy -- the fundamental resource of intelligence has been stripped of all meaningful cost, and the only factor maintaining its value is artificially controlling access to it.[2. That idea should be enough to make anyone worry.  Fortunately, it seems like Google has our backs.]