Recently I was at a friend’s house for dinner and she was cooking fish on the grill outside. She came in the house looking for a flashlight, and when she asked her husband where it was, he said, “Use my phone.” He clicked on the flashlight app and a strong beam of light came out of the camera flash.
In this season of consumerism, I like to focus on the fact that we are living in an age of dematerialization. Computers, the Internet, and smartphones are eliminating the need for countless products.
When I was growing up, my family had a multi-volume encyclopedia taking up lots of room on a shelf. Who needs that, or a dictionary any more? Think of the forests of trees no longer being consumed for reference books.
Many of us have (or had) shelves and racks full of books, CDs, and DVDs. But who needs those anymore with ebooks, iTunes, and streaming video services? Think of the manufacturing plants, distribution centers, trucks, and retail stores that are no longer needed, not to mention space in our homes.
How many of us have shelves full of photo albums gathering dust? Now our cameras don’t have film, and we view our photos on screen. Think of the millions of gallons of developing chemicals, miles of film, all the ink and paper no longer needed—and that’s just for the countless bad snapshots that we tossed out right away.
Linked to dematerialization is a change in attitude towards possessions. When John Lennon wrote the song “Imagine,” the line about no possessions seemed hopelessly idealistic, or a paean to some kind of soft-headed communism.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
But now it’s coming true.
Recently Thomas Friedman wrote about the new “sharing economy,” and a website called Tradesy where people can buy and sell used high-fashion garments and accessories, including wedding dresses. The website was started by a woman named Tracy DiNunzio who needed a way to get rid of her wedding dress after a short marriage.
The sharing economy is producing both new entrepreneurs and a new concept of ownership. “With improved peer-to-peer commerce platforms that remove the friction and risk from multiparty transactions, consumers are being empowered to value and sell their space, their belongings and their time in ways that weren’t previously possible,” said DiNunzio. “For those at the cutting edge of this trend, durable goods are viewed as temporal objects to enjoy and pass on rather than ‘belongings.’ Personally, I no longer feel like I ‘own’ anything. I enjoy my consumer goods for a day, a week or a year, take good care of them because I assume they’ll go on to have another life with someone else, then share or sell whatever I’m tired of. I get access to goods and services that would typically be beyond my means, without accumulating a ton of stuff.”
This “lightweight living,” she added, “goes hand in hand with a reimagined concept of ownership that’s focused on utility rather than possession, and can ultimately result in consumers enjoying more variety for their dollar.” [my bold]