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Ephemeralization

Wonderful Things
How many motors do you have in your house?

Kevin Kelly, in What Technology Wants and on his blog, talks about how the most successful technologies disappear. They start as major innovations, then become increasingly invisible and ubiquitous. (Douglas Adams pointed this out, too--Kelly quotes him at the link.)

Buckminster Fuller called it "ephermeralization," doing "more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing." (Note that he says can, not must or should. I don't think he, or Kelly, or Diamandis or any of the Techno-Evangelists actually advocates for banning old technologies. There are still people producing illuminated manuscripts, buggy whips, and flint arrowheads.)

Kelly cites electric motors as one example of massive ephemeralization. When they were new, electric motors were huge and expensive. Entire factories were adapted to run off a single large motor. As they got smaller and cheaper, they were adapted to a million uses that weren't originally anticipated. They became ubiquitous and invisible.

How many do you have around you? Think about everything you own where you push a button and something moves. There's a motor in there.



In my tiny (and not particularly automated) house:
  1. Window fan (x2)
  2. Fan in space heater (x2)
  3. Optical disk ejector in my laptop
  4. Optical disk drive in laptop
  5. Laptop fan
  6. Laptop disk drive
  7. Ceiling fan in bedroom
  8. Exhaust fan in bathroom (x2)
  9. Whatever makes the wall clock hands go around (x2)
  10. Washing machine drum
  11. Washing machine pump
  12. Dryer
  13. Shaving device
  14. Complexion device
  15. Personal, um, relaxation device
  16. Hydronic heat water pump
  17. Fan in convection oven
  18. Kitchenaid mixer
  19. Blender
  20. Food processor
  21. Refrigerator
  22. Sewing machine
  23. Power drill
  24. Power screwdriver
  25. Orbital sander
  26. Power paint scraper thingy
  27. Roto-zip cutting tool
  28. Circular saw, big scary
  29. Circular saw, small crafty
  30. Dremel tool
  31. Vacuum cleaner
  32. Swiffer Wet-Jet sprayer thingy
(If you're counting your own motors, and you have a car, there are probably half a dozen tiny motors in there in addition to the big one: side mirrors, seats, trunk release, locks, wipers, washers, maybe a CD player...oh! and, peripherally, the the garage-door opener...)

And here's what's interesting: tiny motors are now being eaten by microprocessors. For instance, I used to have a camera with a motorized lens. Now I take pictures with my phone, which uses software to focus--no moving parts. I used to have a heater in my bedroom that distributed hot air with a fan; now I have in-floor heat on a programmable thermostat--no moving parts. I used to have a DVD player with a tray that moved in and out; now I watch streaming Netflix on my solid-state drive tablet--no fans, no drive motor, no tray, not even any physical medium--no moving parts.

And don't even get me started on all the physical storage space my tiny mobile devices (with their giant world-brains) have freed up in my house: landline phone, answering machine, alarm clock, wristwatch, books, movies, TV, DVD player, CDs and stereo, camera, flashlight, compass, timer, calculator, games, recipes, paper files...

This is not, by the way, me saying you should get rid of your car or your books, or your Rolex or your SLR or your horse or anything else that's important to you. As a non-car-owning cyclist, I think my "outdated technology" cred is pretty solid.

I just think it's cool how much easier it is for me, personally, to live (and grow old) comfortably and safely by myself in a very small house on a modest income, and still be surrounded by miracles and wonders.

It's just me wondering how far ephemeralization can go while I'm still alive to see it.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
llaras
Jun. 3rd, 2014 11:50 pm (UTC)
I have a purr motor right next to me in a kitty cat. :-)

I loved your list. I wish I had a horse. And a, erm, personal relaxation device.

Hee.
emeraldsedai
Jun. 4th, 2014 01:06 am (UTC)
Awww! I always figured that the Wings'/Paul McCartney song "Motor of Love" was about a cat. Or, you know, a personal relaxation device. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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