One generation’s scarcity is another’s abundance.
In some of these books, the end of labor scarcity liberates the mind, ends wars over resources, and creates a civilization of spiritual, philosophical beings. In others, the end of scarcity makes us lazy, decadent, stupid and mean. Is it inevitable that the end of scarcity also means the end of discipline and drive?It’s worth looking at a historical analogy, the civilizations of Athens and Sparta, for an answer. If you were lucky enough to be born into the right class, you didn’t have to work to live.
Abundance is always the light on the next peak, never the one we’re on. Economically, abundance is the driver of innovation and growth. But, psychologically, scarcity is all that we really understand. People don’t always recognize abundance when they first see it.On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
Google doesn’t sell space. It sells users’ intentions – what they’ve declared they’re interested in, in the form of a search query. And that’s a scarce resource. The number of people typing in ‘Berkeley dry cleaner’ on any given day is finite.
Every abundance creates a new scarcity. We tend to value most what we don’t already have in plentitude. It is quite true that man lives by bread alone – when there is little bread.
We spent a generation believing certain parts of our business needed to be scarce and that advertising and other interruption should be abundant. Part of the pitch of free is that when advertising goes away, you need to make something else abundant in order to gain attention. Then, and only then, will you be able to sell something that’s naturally scarce.
This is an uncomfortable flip to make, because the stuff you’ve been charging for feels like it should be charged for, and the new scarcity is often difficult to find. But, especially in the digital world, this is happening, and faster than ever.