Society Doesn't Know How To Deal With Abundance
from the we're-hard-wired-for-scarcity dept
Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does. Society knows how to react to scarcity.Indeed, if you look at all of human history, probably 99.999999% of it has been about dealing with the issues of scarcity. In fact, our entire original economic philosophy (which is really just two and a half centuries old) was based on "resource allocation in the presence of scarcity." Historically, abundance just hasn't been an issue that we've had to deal with very much. And the problem is that people try to apply the mental rules of scarcity to abundance and they basically kick out an error message. It's a "divide by zero" sort of problem. You get infinity as a result, and you think it's wrong.
So the response is almost always the same. Rather than actually trying to deal with what abundance enables, people try to force abundance back into a feeling of scarcity -- which they're comfortable with. That is, they try to apply artificial rules and restrictions to make the abundance feel like it's scarce, so that they can understand it again.
But, that's not how disruption works. Disruption changes the old models -- and abundance can be disruptive in very significant ways. And disruption doesn't happen in an orderly transition, such that those who are stuck on the old models can gracefully and gradually learn about and switch over to the new models. As Shirky says:
It's easy to say "preserve the best of the old and combine it with the best of the new," but in revolution, the best of the new is incompatible with the best of the old. It's about doing things a whole new way.Indeed. This is a point that is brought up by our critics a lot. They claim that content creators and the like shouldn't even try to shift over to the new models while the old models still have some life in them or while the new models aren't really well proven. There's this belief that they can hang onto the old, and gradually add some elements of the new, and then eventually make the jump. But, what Shirky points out more eloquently than I ever could, is that much of the new stuff is really incompatible and very much in conflict with the old. If giving away your content increases new opportunities, how do you square that with an old business model that was built entirely around the scarcity of content?
No one doubts that this is difficult, and at times requires a big leap of faith. But there's no question that there are many things today that are abundant, where they used to be scarce. And that presents a huge challenge. Yet, time and time again, we've seen that when something becomes abundant it is not a bad thing -- but an opportunity to do something even larger. It's just that it's incredibly difficult to do that if you're still hanging on to the old ways.