Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Scarcity and Abundance: The Short Form and the Long Now

We've discussed new communication issue eaelier in IQblog: Our Old Language. Now Frog design has an interesting blog post which poses the question “How do we maintain a balance between instant gratifacation and sustainability?” They wonder what kind of correlation there is between how we communicate and how we manage resources (time, mental, physical). Are the thinking and actions behind micro blogging and quick, short communication - totally in the”now”, chipping away at the valuable ideals behind deeper writing, long term projects and sustainable planning for the future? Fascinating and important ideas to ponder here.

They explain:

Micro-blogging diversifies meaning into myriad atoms of communication, a hyper-targeted in-the-moment form of looking at the world by expressing it in real-time. Sustainable stewardship of nature’s scarce resources requires the exact opposite: a holistic, systemic view on the world, and big-picture thinking beyond instant gratification and self-actualization – both of which based on the insight that the “Future” will not happen if we only think about the “Now.” Philosophically speaking, aren’t speed-dating and sustainability diametrically opposed? And practically speaking, if we’re serious about sustainable solutions in housing, infrastructure, product design, and other areas, don’t we have to start with our day-to-day communications? If “Now is Gone” (Geoff Livingston) – how will we ever secure the “The Long Now” (Alexander Rose)?

Of course you could flip the argument and argue that imposing strict structural constraints on communications (as micro-blogging does) can help us recognize and responsibly deal with the scarcity of environmental resources. But that’s only half the truth. The irony is that the more sliced down the content, the more abundant the channels of communication; the shorter the attention span, the more abundant the volume of micro-formats. So how do we as digital citizens stay focused on the future under the tyranny of permanent distraction? How can we pay attention to the big issues, if attention is becoming an ever more scarce resource in a flood of abundant, ubiquitous micro-communications? Or can we perhaps find a way to utilize both scarcity of attention and abundance of communication for managing natural resources?

Source Frog design, PSFK

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