Seeking Scarcity in an Infinite Digital World

There is a big difference between renting and owning. It changes the way you connect to an object. It changes the impact that object has on your life.

Owners care for their objects. Renters have little vested interest in the objects they use. They use and abuse and move on. Think of a rental vs little old lady car. Which one do you want to buy?

I believe that digital technology, including the Web, is enabling a rental mindset.  This rental mindset is insidious. It is changing how we value the content we create and consume. We, myself very much included, toss content out almost at random with little thought to where it lands. No-one is saving letters in a box. No-one is saving anything. Why bother when It doesn't seem real? Is it Google's job to gather and sort all the scraps of our lives? Do we really want to trust third parties to manage our memories and experiences?

When you physically possess something you know it's real. But in the digital world ownership is a fuzzy thing. Every digital object exists in unreal, infinite abundance. It's like a tree that grows two apples for every one you pick. There is not a limit to how many times something can exist once it enters the digital realm. This reality makes digital content feel disposable and worthless.

Scarcity enables meaningful ownership. Human beings are wired for supply and demand.  I've seen this during my time in the antique/auction world. I see it, all too often, among record collectors. We want the thing we can't have. The saddest day for a collector is the day they finish their collection. They've scaled the mountain, seen the view and seek a new challenge. 

When scarcity vanishes, meaning begins to erode. The digital world is akin to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Almost no elevation or friction. No mountains to climb or views to see. 

How do we create scarcity in the digital world? Do we tie it back to the physical world? Do we move content into gated communities, like the NY Times has done with its recent paywall? How do we create mountains and views? Do we really want everything at our fingertips all the time? I believe that a world with instant access to endless digital content may bring more noise than meaning into our lives. Regardless, the experiment has begun.