The latest EconTalk podcast is an interview with Brink Lindsey, author of The Age of Abundance. Lindsey said that in the 1980’s and 90’s we learned how to live with the freedoms gained in the 1960’s and 70’s. Many negative social indicators soared in the 60’s and 70’s: crime, divorce, drug use, abortion, etc. But during the 80’s and 90’s many of these indicators reversed direction, and Lindsey believes it is because many people have learned to replace legal and societal limits with chosen limits.
I don’t know whether I agree with Lindsey’s sweeping sociological analysis, but I do see some truth to it. I like his phrase “living within chosen limits.” I see a movement toward living within chosen limits on technology. The most obvious example may be Twitter. About 8,000,000 people at this point see some value in limiting their correspondence to 140 character messages. Some other ways I hear of people placing voluntary limits on their technology:
- Unplugging from the Internet to work
- Using terminal-style text editors to minimize distraction
- Using browser-based applications with limited functionality to avoid installing software
- Setting a five-sentence limit on email messages
- Paper organizers, e.g. the Hipster PDA
I imagine the people who adopt these limitations will moderate their approach over time. Instead of unplugging from the Internet, they’ll make better use of it and become more disciplined. They may decide that some modern word processor features are worthwhile but still chose something more streamlined than Microsoft Word.
It may take a generation or more to learn how to take advantage of the new possibilities. We’re in a period of excess now, analogous to the culture of the 1960’s. It will be interesting to see what the analogy of the 80’s and 90’s will be.
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