Aug 03, 2009

Can “less” be the new normal?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: consumerism| modern life| recession

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore laid out his prediction of a curve of progress for the tech industry that has become known as Moore’s Law: Simply put, that computers would double in power every two years. What a coincidence that the rest of life has not only followed that curve but raced ahead according to what you might call the Law of More, as consumers have busily pursued more growth, more choice, more cash, more credit, more entertainment, more travel—more consumption.

But in examining where we stand today, while Moore’s Law holds somewhat steady as tech wizards push boundaries with ideas like quantum computing, the Law of More has hit a wall of massive economic crisis. The sort of “more” we’re seeing now? More unemployment, more insecurity, more business going bust. Millions of people are adjusting to having less in their lives—some by choice, some by force. The Law of Less is the one we live by now, and it looks like it’ll determine our path for a while to come. Can we make it work to our advantage in the long term?

We surely don’t want people going short of food and vital resources for lack of money, or wasting their time and talents because they can’t find a job. But for a long time now we’ve been nervously watching cheap, overprocessed food lead to the obesity epidemic, and roads become increasingly choked with traffic, wasting vast amounts of time and fuel. While packing more and more into life felt like an obligation rather than a choice for many people, common sense was beginning to tell us that in a world fast approaching 7 billion people, we have to figure out ways of better managing our resources.

There’s certainly room for eating less, driving less and buying less stuff without diminishing our individual quality of life. But what happens to jobs and incomes if “less” becomes everybody’s new normal? Many of us have lived through downturns that forced a few months of “less” until we could ultimately resume our comfortable consumption. But how will you react when the adjustment isn’t temporary?

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