Tag Archives: frugality

eBay: cloud storage for physical objects

From the Alt Text comedy column at Wired:

Most of my old games are now eBay-bound — eBound, if you will — as are most of my old books. I don’t think of it as getting rid of them. I still have them, right on my phone.

And if I want them in physical form? Well, I’ve stopped thinking of eBay as an auction site. Now I think of it more as cloud storage for things with measurable volume. I’m putting my possessions into the cloud, and if I want them again I can retrieve them from the cloud for a small fee.

Sure, they won’t be the exact original items I once owned, but that doesn’t bother me any more than it bothers me that the 1s and 0s I retrieve from Evernote aren’t the same electrons I originally stored.

Compare and contrast with the last Viridian Note from Bruce Sterling a few years back:

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

“Everything else” will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in “everything else.”

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers’ marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. “Everything else” should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

Of course, even as a short-to-medium-term storage medium, eBay is horribly clunky and expensive to use (not to mention lossy as all hell), but it’ll have to do until fabbing technology and truly ubiquitous digital media archiving catches up. The worrying thought is what we – as a culture, rather than as individuals – might lose in the period between now and then…

… but given that my ridiculous and ever-growing library of dead tree books contributed hugely to making my recent house move a waking nightmare, I’m starting to wonder whether I care as much as I think I do. Or rather, more than I should.

Building new communities in burst bubbles

foreclosed property sale signYesterday Cory at BoingBoing pointed out a story about a small artist’s community springing up in the now-notorious $100-housing districts of Detroit:

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

All of a sudden, you’ve got a little nucleus of people turning the current economic crisis to their advantage; they’re even building their own miniature power grid based on renewable energies, and looking at ways to get by as cheaply as possible. [image by The Truth About…]

Much hay has already been made by commentators far more erudite than myself about the sea-change in public attitudes toward frugality and conspicuous consumption in the wake of the economic collapse, but the story above highlights the fact that it’s a lot easier and cheaper to avail yourself of the basics of modern convenience than it ever has been before… provided you’re willing to forgo your status symbols and think hard about what you need rather than what you want.

Artist communities, communes and cooperatives have cropped up again and again in recent (and not-so-recent) history, but I’d argue that never before has there been such viable potential for them to survive and thrive with a minimum of dependence on the state, nor a situation where the state would be willing to let it happen as a matter of expedience. Now, if Rushkoff is even partly right about the corporatist economy dying off for good, can we consider this Detroit community (and others like it elsewhere, like the squats of Berlin or Brighton here in Europe) to be the first signs of nation-statehood eroding from within?

Obviously the Detroit option is only available to those with enough capital to buy a foreclosed and deeply discounted property, but think about all those abandoned towns and towerblocks sat empty all over the world – how long before people stop waiting for their governments to find them somewhere to live, and start doing it for themselves? And how much in the way of resources will their governments be willing to expend on preventing them from doing so, considering all the other things they have to worry about?

The Amish as hackers

Amish-rollerbladerThanks to movie clichés, we all know that the Amish eschew technological advances in favour of a minimalist pastoral lifestyle of horse-drawn buggies and water mills. But as with many of clichés, there’s a lot of falsehoods clustered around a grain of truth.

Kevin Kelly has been researching Amish customs, and it turns out that they’re much more pragmatic about technology than you might think. Kelly claims that the younger, less hardcore Amish can be seen as hackers, treating the framework of rules they inherit from their religion as a system to be tweaked in light of new developments:

Turns out the Amish make a distinction between using something and owning it. The Old Order won’t own a pickup truck, but they will ride in one. They won’t get a license, purchase an automobile, pay insurance, and become dependent on the automobile and the industrial-car complex, but they will call a taxi. Since there are more Amish men than farms, many men work at small factories and these guys will hire vans driven by outsiders to take them to and from work. So even the horse and buggy folk will use cars – under their own terms. (Very thrifty, too.)

Kelly makes the point that we could learn a lot from their frugal approach, by learning to say no to tech for tech’s own sake. As an example of sustainable living, the Amish probably rank pretty highly among Western communities.

But imagine for a moment that lots of small local communities decided to relinquish technology, but each to different degrees as they felt best befitted their circumstances. How disorientating would it be to arrive in a region where the cultural clock ran much slower or much faster? [via MetaFilter; image by Darcy Johnson]