Mumbeye Quickie

I contributed a story to Third Party Eyes anthology. My story takes place in a world that I think we're inevitably heading towards. This is like what was discussed in Toffler's "The Third Wave." In short, we've run out of scarcity. People love the idea of a clock running down. Madhists kept revising their time table for the end of the world and were mocked for it. Ironically, the rational types in the world mocked them and are now trucking out their theories on when and how the world will end. I don't think it will.

I think the Information Age has spelled out the eventual path of our culture. We're either going to fall into savagery and abandon our need for a technological edge (for the first since we swung a gazelle femur); or we're going to continue to seek out more and better toys. Fablabs are going to revolutionize our world in a generation. We have information sharing figured out. We can send a whole file that outlines the pattern for a project. We have 3D printers. They're nice now and they're going to improve (better resolution, faster output, easier to use, cheaper). Eventually we're going to bring recycling back into the home. Right now, recycling is an energy intensive task that involves geographical arbitrage to make the whole affair a shell game. Your packaging is walked out to the street. A 10 MPG truck drives along and two workers load it with glass, plastic and paper. The material is taken to a central location, sorted and sifted. Not much is done with the material locally, so it's barged overseas where industry turns it into new products. I wish I were a plastic bottle: I could see the world.
The next step to close off the commercial world as we know it: in-house recycling. When this exhausting process can happen in a box in the basement, then 3D printers will have most of the raw materials they need. When that happens, there will emerge a class of people: the lazy makers. Right now, we have professionals who turn out products in their factories. We have makers (eg. the Make magazine types) but they are anything but lazy. They are smart, resourceful and focused. They're outliers.
We've had computers since the 1950s. It was a generation before they started to become popular. There was a divide of people with and without computing power in their family room. Internet penetration is pretty broad, but there are still digital haves and have-nots. Some people can go online or look to their phone for a wealth of information and labour saving capabilities.
Makers are terrific and they amaze me. I construct my own stuff (my workshop is a beehive with polymers, silicone and polyester resin in lieu of honey), but real makers can conjure items like wizards. When we can get the process of making to that level of ease, then anyone with the money will be able to buy a fablab. They will be able to fill hoppers with various products, push "go" and a toy will crank out at the bottom. This will be tremendously disruptive. Already people are printing machine guns from their 3D printers. In 20 years, that process will be as easy as falling off a log. We can interdict the sale of 3D printers-- but the problem there is that 3D printers can be used to print 3D printers of their own.
The d'jinni is out of the bottle. Eventually, we will be able to print our own goods and maybe even food. Some people will have these fablabs and some will not. Those who don't, will live in the old economic model. But those who do will be able to tap into a tangible ubiquity like we've never imagined before. That will dismantle our economic model: retailers will be as common as video stores. What will be the good of a shopping mall if you don't need to shop? What happens to your job at the factory if everyone is printing off their My Little Pony toys at home? Sure, there will be issues of intellectual property and that will be a battle of its own.
We have to toss most of our concepts because scarcity is the underpinning of our society. We ban together to be stronger (ie. more resistant to scarcity). What happens to theft laws if someone makes off with your TV and all you have to do is press "go" and have another TV? Why go to a crappy job if you don't need the money to buy stuff? If 30% of our income goes to housing, in a post-scarcity world we could live off of as much as 70% less income-- that is, until we go to the kilowatt standard and ditch money.
The manufacturing formula I learned way back is that items should cost about 20% of retail to manufacture. ($10 book costs $2 to print and the wholesaler sells them for $4.50). That 80% is needed to pay for non-makers to live their lives, but it's also the 80% that makers could leave out of their budget. Print a car? That'll be $2000 in supplies (less if you can scrap source).
The main problem with post-scarcity is that rich people need scarcity. The best part is that we can circumvent them and leave them hanging onto their confederate money and old concepts.

We're in the first minutes of a new day. I set my story, Mumbeye Quickie, in that new era. Here's more on the anthology, Third Party Eyes.

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