Resource Use

Over at Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao just put out a really fascinating, fragmented ramble through waste and its impact on the discussion of scarcity versus abundance titled Waste, Creativity and Godwin’s Corollary for Technology.

In it, Rao puts forward several intriguing observations, the first of which is something that I believe I will be repeating for awhile:

Godwin’s Generalized Law (modified from the orginal Godwin’s Law):

Every discussion within an online community converges to a zero-information signal characterized by empty assertions concerning the foundational dichotomy of that community.

This is quickly followed by Godwin’s Corollary for technology:

Every online discussion about technology that goes on long enough will eventually mention the Singularity or Collapse.


What was astoundingly interesting is his assertion that “civilizations are defined by the resources they can waste”, and that a resource is wasteable when “it is cheap enough that you can leave it out of the strategic cost calculations for most products and services that it is a part of.”

How we solve problems is determined by the resources we have available to us. If we must worry about the basic resources, it becomes more difficult to develop complex applications; the freedom of access to basic commoditized resources allows us to “waste” what we need in order to fulfill greater goals.

This is particularly interesting in the concept of modeling the way people address problems around them. If you were to wonder how a particular solution to a hypothetical problem is going to be addressed, you have to take into account two particular considerations:

  1. The stated goal
  2. The resources available, both in their quality and their relative abundance for the person involved

The whole situation will clearly be colored by what limitations are present, but where the frame-shift occurs is that the considerations needed are drastically reduced, providing a greater freedom to find a best solution.

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