As populations and economies grow, how is it physically possible for everyone to keep buying “stuff”? Won’t the world literally run out of “stuff”?
As societies advance, their population tends to decline, so this is one possibility: the global population will peak and then naturally decline. Another possibility, is a global upheaval, which could result in rapid depopulation due to violent death.
But another option is beginning to appear as well: digital consumption. Instead of amassing personal libraries, we have digital libraries. Instead of collecting dolls, we collect virtual ones within apps. Instead of traveling to the store, we stay home and order online. Instead of visiting relatives that live across the country, we communicate via video phone.
In the “Byte Age”, giant mall complexes filled with stores that are filled with “stuff” may become obsolete. Consequently, the factories of production and their related infrastructure may decline.
Not all things can be consumed digitally, such as food, basic apparel, dwellings, and some forms of transportation. Also physically necessary, is the infrastructure that allows for digital consumption: the global computer network, and devices for producing and consuming content.
In the Byte Age, one would not measure their societal worth by physical manifestations of wealth: luxury automobiles, large houses, expensive clothing, and large collections of tangible “stuff”. There would likely be some digital means to express people’s drive to compete with their neighbors.
Eventually, people may spend the majority of their time within a single dwelling, performing most of their daily tasks in front of a computer, living virtual lives within virtual communities. Some people will view this change as living an artificial life, but many others will welcome the new opportunities.
In cyberspace, attractiveness, height, weight, color, age, pedigree, formal-education, enunciation, location, and economic status, don’t matter. Many people will gladly forfeit the organic world, where they feel looked down upon or discriminated against, in favor of an equalizing digital presence.
This new digital realm will be so valued, that physical goods will be less sought after. And instead of spending time, energy, and resources developing the exterior world, time and energy will be directed towards cyberspace — “stuff” will become obsolete. Physical dwellings will shrink, clothing will simplify, transportation will be minimal.
And although to the outside observer, humanity will appear sedentary and sedate, a vibrant civilization will thrive within digital form, invigorated by an equalized global population.