The Future: Less is More
Less is more. This is the slogan of the future. It should be among the most valuable concepts to keep in mind and aspire towards. Where “less is more” does not describe the current state of things the goal should be to rectify that. This idea captures a multitude of fields relevant to everything from the survival of the human race to its advancement. Here are a few key examples.
Key to Survival
In a time of crisis predicated on the depletion of readily available resources doing more with less could prove instrumental to the very survival of humanity as we know it. Extracting more value out of less resources could buy us time, and we can then use this time to continue this process of increasing efficiency until we reach a point of sustainability.
When we look at technological advances as of late it should go without saying that technology can play a substantial role in enabling the extraction of more value out of a lower amount of resources. Information technology is perhaps the most obvious contributor in so far as artificial intelligence systems can optimize our resource usage, but nanotechnology has the most revolutionary potential. In fact, nanotechnology is the primary driver behind the increased efficiency of our information technology, among many other fields.
This is because nanotechnology gives us greater control over the building blocks of matter; atoms and molecules. When we can design and manufacture products atom by atom we can eliminate virtually all loose ends that typically creep up with a more traditional approach, one involving throwing big blobs of material against each other and then carving it up. Building bottom up, from atoms upwards, allows us to create products that do exactly what they are supposed to, and no more, while taking a minimum amount of energy. We can hardly dream of a better way to get more out of less.
Perhaps most importantly, however, it allows us to effectively synthesize resources which we might be lacking. If everything is consisted of atoms, and if we can now rearrange those atoms into new structures, we can then convert a resource we have in abundance into a material that we are lacking. This could mean, for instance, the ability to turn the incredible amounts of waste we currently have into oil, if needed. And yes, it also means being able to turn trash into gold. At that point we start erasing the boundaries between various resources, and simply start thinking in terms of matter and energy as a baseline resource.
Of course, our nanotechnology is still not advanced enough to fulfill this potential, and it will be a challenge to get there. Some are skeptical that we ever will if the resource crisis we are facing catches up with us before we do. This is why it is also important to think of another, less technology centric, way of getting more out of less. This is about optimizing our social and economic structures, and the logistics of our resource usage with the technology that we currently have.
Decentralization plays a key role in this process, and the localization movement provides a relatively good example of what this involves. It is about local populations producing local goods that can be produced locally, instead of shipping them from overseas. This requires a huge scale down in subsidies and government regulations, most of which currently serve mainly to make small local business harder while big corporations still manage just fine.
Technology helps with this process of decentralization as well, even what we have right now. For example, those who can afford to set up solar panels can become independent of the electricity grid. And of course, there is the internet which empowers everyone with access to all the knowledge they need, as well as efficient communication, collaboration, and entrepreneurship options.
Key to Good Business
When we think of “less is more” in terms of running a business, probably the first thing that comes to mind is: less expenses, more profits. In other words, we are talking about return on investment or ROI. It goes without saying that every business should strive to make the most out of their investments, but how exactly do we do that again gets us back to the principle of “less is more”.
This is because “less is more” also implies focus. More often than not finding just one or few things to focus on can ultimately yield greater results than investing into a number of things at once so long as the few things selected are of greatest potential value to your customers, and the best fit to your expertise, resources, and mission.
But this might not be news to anyone who ran a business of any kind, so we can talk about a somewhat less basic example of this “less is more” principle at work in business, and which might signal following this principle as the way of the future. One word: Apple.
Apple is perhaps the best example we have of a massively successful company almost perfectly applying the “less is more” principle throughout. Compared to most of their competitors, whom inundate their customers with more options, more features, more gigahertz etc. Apple focuses on a few carefully chosen product lines which themselves exhibit this zen-like focus on simplicity, prompting many whom catch on to their way of thinking to radically shift the way they think computers and digital devices should be like.
Perhaps the fact that Apple is currently one of the most profitable corporations on Earth tells us something about the future. Perhaps it won’t be a bad idea for more businesses to learn from them and apply this same principle more profoundly than they have before.
Key to Optimal Lifestyle
A lot of us tend to clutter our lives with things that we probably don’t really need. These don’t necessarily have to be just physical things, but also habits, inefficient and complicated workflows, unnecessary worries, and even certain broken relationships which we keep just because we are afraid to quit and move on.
Figuring out what we really want, what will really make us happy, and then getting rid of everything that isn’t quite conducive to this simplified lifestyle might actually yield more happiness, and a greater quality of life. In other words, less is more, if we replace quantity with quality. Lots of things of little value might not compare to the few things of tremendous value, plus the value inherent in simplicity itself: the breathing space that is freed for the things that really matter to you.
If simplifying our lives isn’t an ongoing trend for the future, and perhaps it is if we judge by the amount of people who offer similar advice, perhaps we can make it the future of our lives. This could have awesome positive repercussions to society in general in form of waste reduction, and increase of general happiness.
Key to Good Design
This actually has been an observable trend going forward into the future. Just think back to how web sites looked like around a decade ago, for example. It seemed like everyone thought the more flashy stuff you put on the page the better that page was, or just “cooler”. As the web continued to evolve, however, more and more web sites opted for a more streamlined approach that very much speaks of the “less is more” principle at work.
This doesn’t apply to web design only, of course, but to design in general. Apple is again a great example here. The approach they take to design can almost be dubbed “undesigning” because they try to bring their products into their most basic and obvious form possible. It is why they look so clean, and why there is virtually no clutter to them whatsoever. A lot of other products seem to feature a design element that seems to be there as pure decor instead of serving a function core to the product itself.
Steve Jobs perhaps said it best when he said that “design is how it works“, and this is an idea quite related to the concept of “less is more” when you think about it. If a design element doesn’t contribute to the function of a product then it is fairly superfluous. It is about function and aesthetic form combined into a single thing in which it is the function that dictates how much design is too much design, setting the parameters of a product that feels natural to its users.
I think we are beginning to see similar design principles permeate the industry at large, even beyond just technology. It is perhaps enough to note that the idea of what is “futuristic” often coincides with the idea of what is elegant and brilliantly simple to see that “less is more” is the way of the future as far as design goes.
Key to Technological Advancement
We’ve talked about technology already, as a tool we can use to extract more value out of less resources. However, when we talk about advanced technology in general what is it exactly that makes technology “advanced” if not the extent to which it allows us to get more out of less? The devices themselves are simpler to operate, require less effort, and themselves spend less energy and resources, yet they do a lot more. Information technology, again, provides a great example. Compare modern smartphones with early computers in the effort necessary to operate them, and the power they consumed.
A lot of people would say that it is complexity which makes technology advanced, but I think the only thing complex about advanced technology is the process of developing it. Once it is developed, the process of replication is actually simpler, and the way it functions more elegant.
When Intel builds a new factory for the new type of chips they want to produce, the process may be complex and arduous, but once the factory is in operation it pretty much just prints chips at a push of a button, following a predefined and programmable process that ultimately yields greater value for less.
Developing new tech is then like climbing onto a new plane of existence. Once it is reached, there is a paradigm shift. All of the complexity that was necessary to develop the technology merge into something that is now very simple, and requires less to provide more.
Before the digital age everything that relates to information, knowledge, and culture came in many different forms. We had books, photographs, vynil, and so on. Copying any of it or contributing more of it was an arduous, and expensive process. After the digital age, all of it was effectively turned into bits in a computer, and the paradigm shifted. The costs plummeted, and the process of replication became orders of magnitude simpler. Nanotechnology can do the same thing, by effectively turning all of the physical resources, materials and products into just atoms that can be rearranged in a nanoreplicator.
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