Availability – not ownership – for items we don’t use much
The full article was originally published on IOTA Untangled. Read the full article here.
To have everything our heart desires is a primitive drive in life. But our ecological footprint1 is problematic as it is already. Our environment cannot sustain ever increasing consumption. And that’s with an existing inequality in material possessions in the world right now. What happens when Southeast Asia and Africa go to western levels of consumption or above? We argue that the solution is moving from an economic system of ownership to an ‘availability economy’. Autonomous machines are making this paradigm shift possible.
The issue with current patterns of consumption
Right now we are able to produce and dispatch goods at an ever increasing speed due to advances in automation, and fossil fuels replacing human labor. This means consumption is easier than ever. But at a severe cost to the environment. Even if we could hyperoptimize the production and logistical processes, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to supply the worlds future demand within its biocapacity2.
This way overconsumption is becoming a huge social and ecological problem, but not one that is easily contained. If it can be contained at all. It’s sort of a Pandora’s box. Once people get used to a certain level of material wealth, it’s hard to revert that.
Rather than fight a primal instinct or accept the inevitable, we think there is another way out. The idea is not new (because it boils down to the sharing economy), but the perspective is new.
The availability economy
We propose shifting away from capitalist consumption3 towards consumption as the usage of goods: the availability economy. The idea for redefining consumption goes back to the original meaning of utility: a measure of pleasure or satisfaction.4 In economics utility is used to understand the choices people make, by trying to combine happiness or satisfaction with monetary value.
Utility from ownership
Historically, goods (‘stuff’) were scarce. Automation during the industrial revolution increased the supply, but the availability was still limited by logistics. Shipping a good still required extensive human involvement. This cost a lot of time and effort, and therefore limited the ability to enjoy that good. The logistical component created additional scarcity on top of the physical scarcity of a good.