Production, Uniqueness, and the “End of Scarcity?”

I came across this article on Mashable.com a while ago titled, “Why the End of Scarcity Will Change the Economics of Everything [Opinion].”

I remember bookmarking it because I naturally had an opinion about it, but I wasn’t quite sure what. Clearly, I needed it to simmer in my brain until today, when I know exactly what are my thoughts.

The first time I read the article, I disagreed completely, but I think my perspective was a bit cloudy (hence the bookmarking), but upon the second reading, I decided that I agree with the author to an extent. The extent is technology. In the past 10+ years, technology has advanced and continues to advance at a rate that can at times be overwhelming. Clearly, I am old enough to remember when computers were integrated in classrooms, although to be honest, I didn’t start actively using a PC on a daily basis until the 10th or 11th grade.  I also remember getting our first computer at home.  That computer was just a box with a dark screen that had a typing program where I typed almost all of my high school papers.  I also naturally remember when we got the next generation of computer just before I went off to college. Our internet connection was modem and I can hear the AOL connection noise in my head as I type this sentence. It really is amazing how in the last 12 years, things have changed. I got my first desktop my sophomore year of college and then two years later, having grown tired of having to move it, got my own laptop. Now, my laptops are skinnier, way cooler looking, and made by Apple.

All of the above doesn’t even touch upon the changes in the last 12 years that the internet has created in how we read and write content, receive our news (whether it be correct or not),  purchase items, plan our vacations/trips, share news with friends and colleagues, and interact on the whole. I know I’m missing a few things here, but I remember when I first signed up for Friendster. Then it was MySpace and eventually went into Facebook. I remember when Facebook was just for college students and I, already a college grad,  had to listen to my younger friends talk about the world of Facebook. Then I remember joining Facebook and the onslaught of other social media platforms that have essentially changed the way we think, or as some would say “enhance the way we share”.

I also remember the immediate love of the share, knowing what was going on and updating my life every minute that I could.  Now, I also am aware of the backlash of all of that. I have changed the way I share. Yes, I’m still open. Yes, I share my thoughts, my activities, my vacations, but I’ve also become a bit more secretive. I don’t want you to know that I’m sitting in a bar with my best friend, and I really don’t think you need to know what I am eating for lunch right now.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t use social media because I do, but I’ve learned to share what I REALLY want to share, what seems genuine and unique than sharing my every movement or photo.

This is where the article comes in because the author is correct that as we generate content on the internet, access is not scarce. The more she share, provide, and create, the less scarce content becomes. No longer is news just created by professional journalists who write for newspapers. News comes through Twitter and on Facebook by average citizens of the world. And now journalists are in the position of being on the front lines even more than before to get news before the average citizen does. They may have a better skill set in reporting the news, but they’re in a race against the average citizen to still be relevant. The same goes for photography. I know on any given day as I walk the streets of NY, I see every second person with a SLR camera. They are documenting, or attempting to document the nitty gritty of life.  Pictures are uploaded to Facebook  at rates that are ridiculous (750 million photos uploaded to Facebook over New Year’s weekend)! Yet, there’s still that skill level that differentiates an amateur from a pro, and yet there are more photograph options. Average people are capturing moments faster than the pros.

And then there is blogging (myself included!).  Almost everyone has a blog, although that doesn’t always mean they are good, but it makes finding thoughts, perspectives and opinions (like this) abundant and never-ending.

With so many options, scarcity in the technological realm does not exist and companies that do attempt to create it are fooling themselves. So score for the author! But what about art in other genres? What about the validity of the content and the production?  More importantly what about the lack of scarcity on the environment when it comes to tangible items? You may or may not have been expecting me to go this angle, but again, as I sat last night surrounded by paper, I really understood where my initial disagreement with this article began.

As you know, I make stationery and invitations. I’ve recently run into the issue of not having inventory. Why? Well because I’ve created custom products for many clients. I’ve done so much custom work that I haven’t needed to actually create pieces that I can wholesale or just have available for tabling events.

So what did this girl do?

Well, she, I, started designing, creating and recreating pieces. She started imagining things she could make and might be of interest for her first tabling event. In other words, she started to produce inventory.  And it was exciting! It was exciting to go through bins of paper she’s been hording for two years to see what she could create.  It was also exciting to set a limit. To realize that these are custom pieces, without being customized, and they are unique and therefore scarce.

Oh no! Have I created the idea of scarcity?

No.

First of all, there are a million stationery designers in the world, so clearly everyone is operating on a no scarcity level, but my products are scarce because of a decision I’ve made and because of a few external issues beyond my control.

The materials I work with are subject to discontinuation, discoloration, and more importantly lack of inventory. If I buy handmade paper from India tomorrow, there is no guarantee that six-months down the road that paper will still be available. Or that the paper if it’s handmade, will be the same color as the first time. Handmade products that are dyed often have an issue where they were created in different batches and can result in the coloring being slightly off. In that case, what am I to do? Keep creating? Well, yes, but in a different way.

My designs change based on that materials I work with.

Additionally, I get a lot of inspiration from nature.  Often, colors in the sky at sunrise and sunset and flowers dictate colors that will be used in my palette for days, weeks ,and months.  Often times, I will recall them through memory or thanks to a photo snapped at that moment. Yet, I’m completely aware that as time moves, I forget the exact colors and that photos, even with the best lens, can not always capture the bright pinks and oranges that your eye does in the moment.  Therefore nature has also created scarcity.

Which brings me to the next point that everything on this planet is not forever. We have a tendency to believe that it is. Our attempts to outmaneuver death don’t really work and yet we are vigilant in trying.  I don’t mean to get on a soap box here or to force my philosophies on anyone, but having worked in a position that has required me to learn and understand Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) and becoming an eco-warrior as I’ve aged, I’ve realized that we are running out of natural resources, which makes the lives we lead now unsustainable for the planet and all living creatures.  As an entrepreneur, paper passionista, and stationery designer I wonder, often, what I can do to conduct my business in a respectable manner for everyone.  I’m still figuring out my plans and my future commitment to CSR, but I know it is one of the strongest considerations as I move forward.

To return to last night, where I sat surrounded by paper (to be honest it was more like the paper blob slowly seeping out of my room into the living room), I knew that I had purchased enough paper to create a certain amount of sets to sell at Celebrate Brooklyn!  Should items sell out, then I’ll know I need to create more, but until I know for certain, I will not produce more product “to be safe”.

I’m not going to lie and say that I have not freaked out by thinking that I won’t have enough product for Celebrate Brooklyn!, because I have. But for each of those moments where I have freaked out, I have also been brought back to earth with the realization that I: 1) have a limited amount of funds (anyone who wants to give me a grant, can by the way!) and 2) I have a limited amount of time. I did not purposely set out to use scarcity as a tactic, but as an artist, I’m instead embracing that sometimes things have to run their course and no one thing can run on forever. Not to mention, I don’t really want to have product sitting around that doesn’t sell, which is a risk that any business runs into.

What I’ve felt all along is that scarcity is not a bad thing. Nor is it something that should be feared. It’s something that should be accepted much like life and death. It is something that reminds us that we are individuals with different tastes and preferences. As consumers, we should also be unique, just as our existence and experiences on this wonderful planet we call home.

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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