The End of Stuff

A lot of people (example) are starting to realize that stuff is not all that important. As we get better at mass producing cheap food and consumer products, stuff will cease to be important at all. The only stuff that will be valuable is stuff that can no longer be made due to lack of sufficient demand or stuff that is too difficult or time consuming to make cheaply. Artifacts and original artwork will grow more valuable, but everything else will just be future trash someone will have to get rid of when you die.

Wealth will be valued in terms of freedom and influence rather than in terms of material accumulation. It was not long ago that many people collected things: records, books, films, etc. Before downloadable music and eBay, it was difficult to find certain things. You could score cultural points for having a super deep collection of records or books that were hard to find. It sucked having to search around only to have to buy from heavily marked-up specialty stores or, worse, collectors. Now if you want to listen to music or find a particular book or movie, it’s easy. Snobs have been disintermediated by technology.

Media is quickly becoming unimportant stuff, too. When you can pipe in thousands of songs from thousands of artists around the world, how important is the individual song? We’ve only been recording music and film for a hundred years, imagine when you have access to three hundred years of human cultural produce. You won’t feel the need to ‘own’ any of it. It will just be part of the atmosphere in which we live.

As we grow wealthier, we will be faced with choices on how best to live. When the essentials of survival are easy to acquire, how should we proceed? We are already starting to see that stuff, entertainment, and material comfort do not satisfy our hunger for meaning. We are so wealthy but so alienated from life as it could be lived and experienced. We can accomplish so much, but we have so few goals that capture the imagination. If you never had to worry about survival, how would you live? What would you like to accomplish?

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