Ephemeralization

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In 1938 American engineer, Buckminster Fuller coined the term ephemeralization to describe the increasing tendency of physical machinery to be replaced by what is now called software. It describes the ability of technological advancement to do ‘more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.’ Fuller’s vision was that ephemeralization will result in ever-increasing standards of living for an ever-growing population despite finite resources. The concept is a counterargument to Malthusian philosophy, where that the dangers of population growth (famine, disease, etc.) would preclude endless progress towards a utopian society.

Fuller uses Henry Ford’s assembly line as an example of how ephemeralization can continuously lead to better products at lower cost with no upper bound on productivity. Another example is found in length measurement technologies:  ruler >  rod > rope > telescope > radio. The technological progression is a continuing increase in length-measuring ability per pound of instrument, with no apparent upper limit according to Fuller. However, increasing system complexity and information overload make it difficult and stressful for the people who must control the ephemeralized systems. This can negate the advantages of ephemeralization.

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