Saturday, January 10, 2015

Economy of scale - small scale.

Escaping the progress trap
Since the beginnings of industry, economy of scale1  meant large scale. It was natural to get as much as possible done with the fewest resources. Over time, this meant larger farms, larger houses, larger cities, larger states, transport systems, and much, much more. Then came machines, electricity and factories - which gave us economies that never slept. One disadvantage of all the bounty was that humans adapted to the machines, most of which were larger than us anyway. There was no choice.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to indentured omnipotence. Ingenuity began making the the machines smaller and smaller. And smaller. Many machines are still larger than humans, don't sleep and must be fueled non-stop. But our most beloved, frequently used machines are smaller than we are. We can turn them off. We can ignore them. We can stop feeding them. Best of all, a single one of them can do many things. Little miracles. Instead of being slaves to them, we can tell them what to do.

That includes providing music, getting mail, monitoring our heart rate and figuring out exactly where we are the morning after. We adapt these small machines to suit our purposes. They are addictive sometimes, but that's not the same as involuntary slavery to polluting mega-industries like energy production, agribusiness and big pharma. The most useful gadgets such as pacemakers may have only one purpose, but they are small.

Without revolutions, marches or barricades we are quietly liberating ourselves from enslavement to the production line.

The thing is, we can do more things on a small scale, such as individually tailored medical treatments, without sacrificing what we used only to enjoy on a large scale. Yes, Mr. E. F. Schumacher 2, small is beautiful.

Eventually we may be able to dispense with behemoth states, cities and perhaps a few polluting industries. For now, I can set aside the tablet on which I wrote this, for as long as I like.
by Daniel B. O'Leary FRSA
  1. Economies of scale
  2. Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher