Here are my rough notes from the ETech 09 talk by Lane Becker and Thor Muller of Get Satisfaction.
The End of Obsolescence: Engineering the Post-Consumer Economy
System of Consumerism: Economists think recessionary patterns (eg cobblers, repair) are transient and spending/consumption will return. Disposable culture. Planned obsolescence, lock-in, bigger is better –> The Ownership Society. No such thing as an infinite loop (eg pop dynamics). Rise & fall of growth and recessions is taken as a given of a natural cycle. Landscape amnesia. People forget what it used to be like. Our situation looks much more like a sharp asymptotic curve leading to a much sharper crash. Consumerism, growth curve is crashing quickly. Speed kills but it can force us to change in real time.
The Great Compression. A squeezing out perceived value to leave only real value in our economy. We have under-estimated the costs and over-estimated the value. Value destruction at work (slide shows sectors of economy with huge chunks that make things of no value or move value around, esp wholesale trade, manufacturing, financial investment – these are being selected against). NYT: Job losses hint at vast remaking of US Economy. Collapse – social, environmental, financial. Environment being wrapped up as the gooey center of the larger collapse. All of our systems are under pressure to remove false value and select for intrinsic value.
Design Patterns for Post-Consumerism: weak signals, indicators that suggest possible directions. What could replace consumerism? Two types of patterns: 1) Go back to basics. Not likely. Service economy represents giant heatsinks of human activity. Free time, cognitive potential. Other heatsinks are terrorism and civil unrest. How can we effectively use people’s free time. 2) Progressive future. Eg The Diamond Age; Universal copy machine. Physics & culture at the heart of the problem. Bits don’t move – they are copied. What can’t be copied? What is important? Culture becomes all-encompassing. World breaks out of nation-states into tribes. Culture is defined by what people make. OpenSource as example of removing economics of production. We still make & participate & contribute & collaborate.
Design Pattern 1: FREE. What economic & cultural value can be created outside of capital? What if everything was free? We assume economic trade must be the primary framing of value in our lives. Capitalism is shrinking. It must compressed because a lot of economics is perceived value, not actual value. This encourages alternatives that build real value. Design
Pattern 2: Repair Culture. Old school. When something is built to last, you want to see it last. We need objects that tell us to take care of them. Inverse of culture of obsolescence. The curse of innovation. Always improving products… how to avoid obsolescence? Eg DIY & Maker culture. Now there are customer communities & repair cultures for everything. Emergent business ecosystem that rises from repair communities. Eg Twitter community of teachers, services.
Design Pattern 3: Reputation Scaled. Reputation is the fertile ground from which civilization arises. Keeps us honest. Internet has transformed the village into the global village. This has transformed reputation (nobody can hide). Eg microlending. Collective reputation. Rewired the system to fund people without credit. Lent to groups of people who know each other – individual reputations are tied to group reputation. Innovation from the bottom-up. Eg Tidy Towns. Engage people in rural Irish towns to get passionate about clean cities. Town, community, individual. Tying individual reputation to larger group reputation.
Design Pattern 4: The Loanership Society. Lending stuff we can spare or don’t use. Eg why does everybody have a power drill? Why not share across groups? Eg Eco-neighbuzz. “I need a drill. Can anyone lend me one?” Make it a utility. Eg utility of the Zipcar. Notion of ownership over solid media versus subscription models. Subscription models for everything. Eg Comcast bundles subscriptions. People want a la carte. Hence more people are going to the web for content on their own terms. Pride of ownership vs. pride of stewardship. Eg John Muir. Not “I own this thing”, but “we collectively have a guardianship”. What are the environments where stewardship is more appropriate than ownership?
Design Pattern 5: Virtual Production. Eg device containers that stuff gets made and sold for. Not solid product but digital goods. Breaking cycles of production & consumption. Eg iPhone & apps. Eg. Air Level, iCandle. Se amount of economic activity that involves creating new stuff is being retargeted to virtual goods. Such goods get better over time rather than decaying. Eg Last.fm. Creating micro-economic climates. New metrics.
How can we move the culture towards these trends. Amplify the patterns. We have the opportunity, the tech, and the will. Benefit ourselves and our culture, our futures and our children.