In the old Ginsu commercials, they used to say “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife…but this method doesn’t work with a tomato.”
In the old Ginsu commercials, they used to say “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife…but this method doesn’t work with a tomato.”
I’m sure you’ve noticed that we are historically and fundamentally a consumerist society.
We spend a lot of time and money shopping and buying things—many of the things that we buy, we acknowledge that we don’t even need—just check your attic lately? 🙂
Many compulsive buyers have even self-proclaimed themselves “shopaholics.”
Aside from being somewhat obsessive compulsive in the way we treat buying and owning things, we tend to be pretty wasteful in buying and throwing out things, often from individualized, single use servings—think fast food, as one example.
The result, according the Environmental Protection Agency (per WiseGeek), the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day or 1,600 pounds a year (and that doesn’t include industrial waste or commercial trash).
On the flip side of all the tossing out we do, are “hoarders” or those with the tendency to keep lots of things, often piled high in every corner of their homes and offices; there is even a show called by the same on A&E television dedicated to this.
So we shop a lot, spend a lot, buy a lot, and then consume it, hoard it, or toss it. And we do this with enormous volumes of things and in ridiculously rapid cycle times—for example, how many times a week do you find yourself in the stores buying things or then taking out the trash generated from it? (I can practically hear the lyrics of the Hefty commercial playing: ”Hefty, Hefty, Hefty—Stinky, Stinky, Stinky…”)
Overall, it’s a crazy system of conspicuous consumption driven by perceived needs for materialism, highly refined and effective marketing and advertising techniques, and people’s feelings of relative deprivation.
Yet despite these, there is movement underway to change from a society obscured by habits of personal ownership and consumption to a more healthy and balanced approach based on sharing and reuse.
And this is approach for sharing is happening not just in terms of personal consumption, but also in terms of our organizational use of technology, such as in service-oriented architectures, common and enterprise solutions, virtualization, and cloud computing.
We see change happening as a result of the huge financial deficits we have piled on individually, organizationally, and as a nation; the depletion of our vital natural resources (including concerns about our future energy supplies and other limited raw materials like precious metals etc.); and the fear of pollution and the poisoning our planet for future generations.
An interesting article in Wired called “Other Peoples Property” (Sept. 2010) talks about how we are moving finally toward a model of sharing through peer-to-peer renting sites like at www.zilok.com (with 150,000 items listed including cars, vacations, tools, electronics, cloths, and more) and other swapping sites for books, CDs, video games, etc. like www.swaptree.com. Of course, Zipcars and property timeshares are other fashionable examples of this new way of thinking!
Further, the article references a new book by Rachel Botsman called “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,” about how we are moving to a new consumption model that emphasizes “usefulness over ownership, community over selfishness, and sustainability over novelty.”
With new technologies and tools there is more opportunity than ever to share and reuse, for example:
If we can get over the stigma of sharing and reuse, perhaps, the day is coming when we can think of many non-personal items more in terms of community use and less in terms of mine and yours, and we’ll all be the richer for it.
Every day in the mail comes oodles of consumer catalogs: printed on quality stock paper, glossy, and many almost as thick as the community phone book.
Often, right in the mailroom, there is a huge recycle bin and there just about everybody drops the catalogues from their mailbox straight into the “trash.”
Who needs these expensive and wasteful printed catalogues that typically go from mailbox to recycle bin or garbage can without anyone even breaking the binding on them? With the Internet, the same information—and more—is available online. Moreover, online, you can comparison shop between stores for the best prices, shipping, and return policies, and you can typically get product and vendor ratings too to make sure that you are not buying a dud from a dud!
Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2009, “more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year–about 56 for every American.”
Read again—56 for every American! This is obscene.
Here are some basic statistics on the wastefulness of these catalogs:
“Catalogs account for 3% of the roughly 80 million tons of paper products.”
“Making paper accounted for 2.4% of U.S. energy use in 2006.”
“The paper typically used in catalogs contains about 10% recycled content…far less than paper in general, which typically contains about 30%…[and] for newspapers, the amount of recycled content is roughly 40%.”
“The average U.S catalog retailer reported mailing about 21 million catalogs in 2007.”
“The National Directory of Catalogs…lists 12,524 catalogs.”
“Only 1.3% of those catalogs generated a sale.”
So why do printed paper catalogs persist?
Apparently, “because glossy catalog pages still entice buyers in a way that computer images don’t.” Moreover, marketers say that catalogs at an average cost of slightly over a $1.20 each “drive sales at web sites.”
And of course, the U.S. Postal Service “depends on catalogs as an important source of revenue.”
However, in the digital era, it is time for us to see these paper catalogs get converted en-mass into e-catalogs. Perhaps, a paper copy can still be made available to consumers upon request, so those who really want them and will use them, can still get them, but on a significantly more limited basis.
Sure, catalogs are nice to leaf through, especially around the holiday time. But overall, they are a profligate waste of money and a drain on our natural resources. They fill our mailboxes with mostly “junk” and typically are completely unsolicited. With the advent of the Internet, paper catalogs are “overcome by events” (OBE), now that we have vast information rich, e-commerce resources available online, all the time.
Normally, I believe in taking a balanced approach to issues, and moderating strong opinions. However, in this case, we are talking about pure waste and harm to our planet, just because we don’t have the capacity to change.
We need to stop persisting in the old ways of doing business when they are no longer useful. This is just one example of those, and business that don’t transition to digital modernity in a timely fashion risk becoming obsolete along with their catalogs that go from the mailbox right into the trash.
How many of you ever wondered why we continue to use dollar bills and coins when we have credit and debit cards that make cash virtually obsolete?
I for one have long abandoned cash in lieu of the ease of use, convenience, orderliness of receiving monthly statements and paying electronically, and the cleanliness of not having to carry and handle the cold hard stuff.
Not that I am complaining about money at a time of recession, but seriously why do we not go dollar-digital in the “digital age”?
Before debit cards, I understood that some people unfortunately have difficulty getting the plastic because of credit issues. But now with debit cards, everyone can shop and pay digitally.
Even government run programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka food stamps) now uses an electronic card for purchasing no money paper stamps.
It seems that credit/debit card readers are pretty much ubiquitous—stores of course, online—it’s the way to go, even on the trains/buses and candy machines.
From the taxman perspective, I would imagine it is also better and more equitable to track genuine sales transactions in a documented digital fashion than enabling funny “cash business.”
So why don’t we go paperless and coinless and fully adopt e-Commerce?
An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, 11 Sept. 2009, described a trendy NYC restaurant that was doing just that.
“The high-end New York City restaurant said goodbye to dollars: Tip in cash if you like but otherwise, your money is no good here.”
Others have been going cashless for some time now.
“In the world of online and catalog retailing, credit and debit cards have long been king. And in recent years, a handful of airlines have adopted ‘cashless cabins.’”
As the NYC restaurant owner said, “Suddenly, it struck me how unnecessary cash was…[moreover,] the convenience and security of going cashless are well worth the added cost.”
Further, from the customer perspective, using a debit or credit card lets users optimize their cash flow and earn reward points.
I believe that the day is coming when bites and bytes are going to win over paper and coins.
This is going to happen, when the IRS requires it, the government stops printing it because it always has (i.e. inertia), when retailers recognize that the benefits of digital money outweigh the fees, and when resistance to change is defeated by common sense of modernization.
On September 2, 2009, the Internet celebrated its fortieth birthday.
ComputerWorld (14 Sept. 2009) reports that 40 years ago “computer scientists created the first network connection, a link between two computers at the University of California, Los Angeles.” This was the culmination of research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the 1960s.
This information technology milestone was followed by another, less than two months later, on October 29 1969, when Leonard Kleinrock “sent a message from UCLA to a node at the Sanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, California.”
While the Internet conceptually become a reality four decades ago, it didn’t really go mainstream until almost the 1990’s—with the founding of the World Wide Web project in 1989, AOL for DOS in 1991, and the Mosaic browser in 1993.
Now, I can barely remember what life was like before the Internet. Like the black and white pictures of yester-year: life was simple and composed, but also sort of lifeless, more boring indeed, and less colorful for sure. In other words, I wouldn’t want to go back.
Also, before the Internet, the world was a lot smaller. Even with connections to others far away—by phone and by plane—people’s day-to-day connections were more limited to those in close proximity—on their block, down on Main Street, or in and around town. It took an extra effort to communicate, share, deal, and interchange with people beyond the immediate area.
At present with the Internet, every email, chat, information share, e-commerce transaction, social media exchange, and application are a blast across the reaches of cyberspace. And like the vastness of the outer space beyond planet Earth, cyber space represents seemingly endless connectivity to others over the Internet.
What will the Next Generation Internet (NGI) bring us?
ComputerWorld suggests the following—many of which are already with us today:
I believe the future Internet is going to be like Second Life on steroids with a virtual environment that is completely immersive—interactive with all five senses and like speaking with Hal the computer, answering your every question and responding to your every need.
It’s going to be great and I’m looking forward to saying “Happy Birthday Internet” for many more decades, assuming we don’t all blow ourselves out of the sky first.
We are a nation torn between on one hand wanting our privacy safeguarded and on the other hand wanting to share ourselves openly and often on the Internet—through Social Media, e-Commerce, e-mail, and so forth.
These days, we have more information about ourselves available to others than at any time in history. We are information exhibitionists—essentially an open book—sharing virtually everything about ourselves to everybody.
Online, we have our personal profile, photos, videos, likes and dislikes, birth date, addresses, email and phone contacts, employer, resume, friends and family connections, banking information, real estate transactions, legal proceedings, tax returns, and more. We have become an open book to the world. In a sense we have become an exhibitionistic nation.
While we continue to friend, blog, tweet, and post our thoughts, feelings, and personal information online, we are shocked and dismayed when there is a violation of our privacy.
How did we get to this point—here are some major milestones on privacy (in part from MIT Technology Review–July/August 2009):
1787—“Privacy” does not appear in Constitution, but the concept is embedded in protections such as “restrictions of quartering soldiers in private homes (Third Amendment), prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment), prohibition against forcing a person to be a witness against himself (Fifth Amendment).
1890—Boston Lawyers Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis wrote in Harvard Law Review of “the right to be let alone” and warned that invasive technologies threatened to take “what was whispered in the closet” and have it “proclaimed from the house-tops.”
1914—Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits businesses from engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”; has been extended to require companies to write privacy policies describing what they do with personal information they collect from customers and to honor these policies.
1934—Federal Communications Act limits government wiretapping
1969—ARPANet (precursor to Internet) went live
1970—Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates collections, dissemination, and use of consumer information, including credit information
1971—First e-mail sent.
1973—Code of Fair Information Practices limits secret data banks, requires that organizations ensure they are reliable and protected from unauthorized access, provides for individuals to be able to view their records and correct errors.
1974—Privacy Act prohibits disclosure of personally identifiable information from federal agency.
1988—Video Privacy Protection Act protects against disclosure of video rentals and sales.
1996—Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects against disclosures by health care providers.
1999—Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems states: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
2000—Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits intentional collections of information from children 12 or younger
2001—USA Patriot Act expands government’s power to investigate suspected terrorism acts
2003—Do Not Call Implementation Act limits telemarketing calls
2006—Google Docs release for creating and editing docs online
2009—Facebook 4th most popular website in the world
As anyone can see, there is quite a lot of history to protecting privacy. Obviously, we want to be protected. We need to feel secure. We fear our information being misused, exploited, or otherwise getting out of our control.
Yet, as technology progresses, the power of information sharing, collaboration, and online access is endlessly enticing as it is useful, convenient, and entertaining. We love to go online and communicate with people near and far, conduct e-commence for any product near seamlessly, and work more and more productively and creatively.
The dichotomy between privacy and exhibitionism is strong and disturbing. How do we ensure privacy when we insist on openness?
First, let me say that I believe the issue here is greater than the somewhat simplistic answers that are currently out there. Obviously, we must rely on common sense + technology.
From a common sense perspective, we need to personally safeguard truly private information—social security numbers and mother’s maiden name are just the obvious. We need not only be concerned about distinct pieces of information, but information in the aggregate. In other words, individual pieces of information may not be easily exploitable, but when aggregated together with other publically available information—you may now be truly exposed.
In terms of technology, we need to invest more time, money, and effort into securing our systems and networks. Unfortunately, businesses are more concerned with quarterly revenue and profit targets than with securing our personal information. We have got to incentivize every business, organization, and government entity to put security and privacy first. Just like we teach our children, “safety first”, we need to change our adult priorities as well or risk serious harm to ourselves and our nation from cyber criminals, terrorisms, and hostile nation states.
But the real issue is, why do we continue to treat technology as if it is more secure and private than it truly is? In a sense, we shut our eyes to the dangers that we know are lurking, and tell ourselves “it only happens to somebody else.” How do we curb our enthusiasm for technological progress with a realism of recognizing the very real dangers that persist?