Abundance & scarcity are two sides of the same coin

Chris Anderson in his book, Free talks about how we can deal with abundance and figure out scarcity in this era of abundance.
Dealing with abundance
Ideas are the ultimate abundance commodity. Even though patents are kept to do business out of ideas, patents ultimately expire, and ideas get out. When more products are made of ideas rather than stuff, the quicker they become cheap. This abundance is what leads to ‘free’ in the and is called as the Moore’s law. Any industry where information is the main ingredient tends to follow this compound learning curve – accelerate in performance while the prices drop and where it becomes more brain than brawn. Hence, there is an incentive to turn things digital where things can be a part of something bigger, not only by operating faster but also, by accelerating. We can afford to take chances when it comes to tapping abundant resources since the cost of failure is too low.
More waste production is a consequence of this abundance. However, the waste created is relative to our sense of scarcity.
One generation’s scarcity is another’s abundance.
This is something that authors of science fiction keeps coming back time and again – making scarce things abundant.
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.
However, it’s really hard to come to terms with the concept of abundance.
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.
Retaining scarcity in the world of abundance
Once our hunger for basic information and entertainment is satisfied, we get more discriminating about what kind of knowledge and entertainment we want exactly. This process helps us know more about ourselves and what motivates/drives us. This eventually, turns us into active producers rather than passive consumers.
Controlling scare resources demands us to be more discriminating.
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.
However, this wealth of information creates a scarcity: a poverty of attention/time.
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.
Here’s what marketing guru, Seth Godin have to say about this:

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.


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