Sue and I have had the same wireless carrier for a zillion years (Okay, maybe not a zillion years—but a long time). Through the years, we’ve had all kinds of voice and data plans. Overall, we’ve been satisfied. However, there’s a thorn in our side recently; It’s something we like to call the “limited unlimited” data plan.
You see, the carrier no longer offers unlimited data plans for smartphones—but the unlimited plan we currently possess is grandfathered—and we like having it.
Here’s the rub: In recent months, we've been receiving warning notices informing us that if we continue at our current usage rate, performance will degrade (and it does). At first, these wrist-slapping messages occurred at 5GB. Now we receive them at 3GB. Obviously they’d like us to move to a plan that makes more sense for them.
One can understand how this happens. If data and data networks were limitless and free everywhere—we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But they’re not free and limitless resources. And, after all, it’s this kind of supply-demand continuum that makes the world go ‘round—right? It keeps the economy humming. It allows wireless companies to be in business. The wireless companies provide people with jobs. Jobs allow people to pay for the things they want (such as data services on their smartphones) etc.
But is it possible that at times this dynamic causes an unnatural exchange of “value” between humans? Is it possible that the aforementioned value-trading dynamic is a function of scarcity—or at least a scarce mindset in our society?
Consider a favorite restaurant—a place where you dine frequently. Imagine that when your patronage increases, food and service quality automatically decreases proportional to the rate of your increased patronage. Would that make sense?
Money has been around for thousands of years, so it's hard to imagine a world without it.
[Photo: 401K's Photostream - CC]
But a world without money did exist. In fact, modern humans have been around for about 50,000 years—much longer than money. So, as hard as it is to imagine, it’s safe to say that money has been not-around more than it has been around. Further, there are non-money systems in existence today, such as food-sharing systems within certain hunter-gatherer societies, there are “gift societies” and there is a reemergence of various barter systems.
But of course, all systems of any kind have their pros and cons. For example, Wikipedia will tell you, "Bartering has several problems; most notably that it requires a "coincidence of wants'". However, our amazing hyper-connectivity these days makes coincidences-of-wants more coincidental & connected than ever before—witness Collaborative Consumption.
It’s provocative to imagine for a moment that maybe these certain funny shaped tokens, paper with symbols, or sequences of bits on a computer screen (i.e., money) might represent an out-moded arcane mechanism that’s been necessary for several thousand years simply because we had no other practical alternative.
But maybe now we do.
Again consider the basics of our current system:
Some human (or humans) control one thing and keep that thing from others human(s) until said other human(s) pay for that thing. In turn, said other human(s) who just paid for the thing happen to control some other thing and keep that other thing from other other human(s)—until the other other human(s) cough up some hard cash for the other thing that the other human(s) control—and so on.
Ironic. Popular language these days includes terms like “collaboration”, “community”, and “teamwork”. What meeting do you attend where you don’t hear those (or similar) words? Yet, just about everything we do in society comes down to keeping something from someone else until they pay for it, usually with money.
What would happen if things were more abundant (Or if we thought more abundantly)?
For example, the Sun is rather abundant, and generally speaking, humans don’t trade shares of sunbathing-units as a commodity traded on a stock exchange. Nor do we pay anyone for the experience of feeling the Sun on our face when we walk outdoors.
If food, data, or energy were limitless, maybe we wouldn't have our wrists slapped at 3GB. Maybe we wouldn’t have to pay for such things at all.
I know—unrealistic and idealistic—right?
Or is it?
- Over 100 years ago, Nikola Tesla had a viable strategy for producing perpetually available energy for everyone everywhere
- Physics tells us that energy never “goes away”
- The Sun showers the Earth with 5,000 times the energy we need every single day
Tesla couldn't fully bring his vision to fruition in large part because others wanted to make boat loads of money.
Regardless: Perhaps there are more alternatives available to us than we think. Or at least, perhaps, we need to start thinking a bit differently about how we think about these things.
Craig Arthur James 2012
In part, this article was inspired by the book, Abundance - The Future Is Better Than You Think