Picture your ideal future. OK, not your ideal future, where you're the last man on earth fighting the zombie horde, but society's ideal future: Energy is clean and limitless, goods are plentiful and machines take care of all the dirty work. So everybody's happy, right?
But in many ways, that future is already here, and it can be described in five letters:
I should probably explain.
5A Star Trek-Style Utopia is Already Here ... Sort Of
Let's talk about porn and dead babies for a moment.
If I gave you a budget of zero dollars and said, "Get me as much Internet porn as you can for that amount of money," how much porn would you come back with?
I'm thinking the answer is, "All of the porn."
That credit card is to order extra Scotchgard.
Which brings me to an amusing story. In the last few decades, thousands of babies in Third World countries have died from contaminated baby formula. Wait, did I say amusing? I typed the wrong word there. Anyway, what happens is the mothers mix the baby formula with contaminated water, because sanitation is poor. So why the hell do the mothers feed their infants poison formula when they can just produce milk, for free, from their own bodies? The answer is that they do it because the manufacturer of the formula, Nestle, ran lots of ads telling them to.
If you want to know what the future looks like, there it is. The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free.
Some of you think I'm about to talk about file sharing and DRM and the evil record labels. But that's just a teaser of what's coming. The world has changed. All the rules we were trained to believe about society from birth until now are about to go out the window.
One way or the other.
Futurists and sci-fi writers talk about a "post-scarcity" society, meaning it's like Star Trek, where matter replicators and fusion reactors have ended all shortages. On one hand, that now looks like a ridiculous pipe dream, but in a lot of areas of our life, we're already there. Think about the porn. There's more porn than air now. Literally -- air is limited, but we have machines that can convert energy into .jpegs of titties from now until the heat death of the universe. Titties are post-scarcity.
Now think about how many people you know who live in apartments or trailers barely big enough to host a game of Twister but who don't care because they spend every waking moment at home either playing World of Warcraft or surfing the Internet. They're not looking for a two-story house with a swimming pool and a white picket fence. With a $300 netbook and a $20-a-month Internet connection they can connect with friends, meet girls, get their entertainment, pursue their hobbies and stay in contact with family or co-workers. They may even work from home.
Look at how many of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs they're getting digitally:
Everything from that second tier to the capstone, they can get at a cost that rounds down to zero, if they so choose.
We Internet types are so busy haggling over video games with DRM that we're not grasping the scale of this. We're like a dog who's been cooped up behind a fence his whole life, and now a storm has knocked down the gate. The dog looks out and thinks, "Wow, out there is the front yard!"
No, Fluffy. Out there is the whole world.