Why embracing waste and exploiting abundance is not always good

I recently read Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price for a communication course, and one of my reservations was with Anderson’s concept that in the age of abundance, waste can be good. Because “our brains are wired for scarcity” (we focus on and are motivated by the things we lack), abundance isn’t always recognized immediately, and must be properly understood before it can be used to its fullest potential. But once it’s recognized, Anderson says the best way to exploit abundance is to relinquish control — to embrace waste. Certain new abundances — like hard drive capacity and storage — can be wasted, so as to preserve other scarcities, like the time that would be spent organizing and managing the space (which used to be scarce — “One generation’s scarcity is another’s abundance,” writes Anderson). By letting go, abundance can be used advantageously.

The problem I have with this is that it seems like a short-sighted approach that will become an issue in the long term. While the concept of embracing waste does provide some useful models (like expansion and maximization of opportunities through waste), there are many cases where embracing waste is not preserving time but merely delaying its use and exacerbating the problem in the process. Take the example Anderson gives of storage space. Not worrying about space — like letting old, unused files stay on hard drives — may save time in the short term, but in the long term, it wastes time by creating clutter and more to search through later. Even with advanced search, it will eventually lead to information overload, which is a problem. It seems better, at least to me, to keep the system curated, relevant and organized, deleting old stuff along the way. Essentially, this is solving the problem of information overload at the root, before it even begins.

Seth Godin shares this sentiment: “More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.”

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