In this modern world we live, most things are attainable very easily. Even in the poorest sections of Earth, basic cell-phones are used, when the next person doesn’t have electricity. I was recently reading a NASA article about a satellite taking photos of the Mars surface for the last 11 years and is still going strong. Obviously, this fact is an amazing engineering feat, but I am more interested I the social or cultural mindset this brings to light. We have this machine that is flying through space with a very high resolution camera taking photos. This data is beamed back to Earth pixel by pixel. With the exception of newer spacecraft, this is the pinnacle of scientific achievement. In contrast, we have any number of cheaply made (on purpose) products that are used and quickly discarded. My “tree-hugging” comrades will be happy to know that many of these items are being recycled instead of filling a hole in the ground, but I digress.
The creation, distribution, and use of these types of products have created a culture of consumerism in a large number of advanced countries. What if we used this amazing efficiency and productivity to create longer lasting products? Will the companies making these new products be able to maintain their profit margins? Would the average person see savings (over time) that would encourage them to take the leap to purchase these more durable items? At least at first, these would be more expensive, but would be worth it as they are lasting five or ten times longer than their disposable cousins. What is the equilibrium lifespan on these new things? 10 years? 20 years?
I find it ironic that the satellite orbiting Mars was the top-of-the-line technology that NASA could put together at the time. Normally technology pushes us further into the mindset of getting rid of our “old” things and buy new ones. I should clarify here that not everyone, even in these advanced countries, live by that idea. So what is forcing these engineers to build this data-gathering, space-faring, indestructible computer? My first thought is that space is so vast, that they just want to get it to the location before the parts wear out. This has always been the case with exploration. Can you imagine the sailing ships of the 18th Century only lasting a year before needing to be replaced? That would be absurd. How is it that even a well maintained personal vehicle only really lasts 10 years? Some might say the parts are only made to last that long and the value we put on the whole vehicle is so low that repairing is more expensive than purchasing a new one. Why not take the approach of the shipbuilders? Are we so comfortable with filling our green and blue Earth with the endless junk we don’t use anymore? We need a better system.
If you want the masses to adopt an idea, you have to make it easy for them. Convenience is the currency of the modern age. If a company or government doesn’t make something easy for the people, the average person will just give up and slip back into the old habits. You can see this with business. Every other week, a large company changes the way the customers can interact with them directly. Social Media has become a major part of their communication platform. Let’s take that idea and apply it to the products we produce. We should be able to build longer-lasting products at half the cost. Innovation is key. Without new ideas, we will just become stuck in the mud. The rapid pace of technology has never been more apparent than in the last 20 or 30 years. I grew up in a time of paper checks and paper maps. Dictionaries and encyclopedias in large physical libraries. However, these were replaced with online versions within 10 years. I now control my life online. Banking, shopping, entertainment, commerce, and sharing ideas. I live in a world of prosperity because of the type of long-term thinking and planning that seems absent from the current 20-year-olds.
To be clear, I have adapted to this new world very easily. I order everything from my clothes to my weekly groceries using the online tools that are so easily found. My CDs and DVDs have been replaced with streaming services that have a higher quality. I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what the next type of disc they will put movies on?” The Blu-ray was quickly replaced with HD streaming services. Physical collections have been replaced by a data collection on a server 1000 miles away. Admittedly, this type of change feeds directly into my belief that a life of Minimalism is right for me. It starts with the decluttering of the physical space and then moving towards a decluttering of the mind.
So, can the young people of today take their newly wired brains and create a future of low-cost, high-lifespan products? Can we make a spacecraft that will bring us to the edges of our solar system, perhaps? What about an affordable car that lasts 20 years? Can the new technology bring resources to those in need? Will companies be brave and take a few years of loss to make the future brighter for the next great minds of this world? We have to do better.
Let me know what you think! I would love some discussion around this. 😀