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What Do You Do When You Have Everything?
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I recently read Nancy Kress' short story "Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" in Year's Best SF 12. It's about a small town in the near-future where the town gets machines that can basically fabricate anything: clothes, cars, food...whatever there's a template for.

It's an interesting thought experiment. Kress basically envisions that the world falls apart, that having the bottom parts of Maslow's hierarchy of needs completely taken care of, the majority of people become bored and restless and will turn to crime and anarchy. So the main character, a mom, basically moves out to an agrarian commune to escape the fall of civilization.

It's good science fiction, because reflects on contemporary modern society as well. We're much further along at having our basic needs met than early Pilgrims or pioneers. As a result, we're fatter and lazier, but we also produce much more art, technology, and scientific knowledge. So there's a trade off.

I don't think things would play out the way Kress imagines them. I don't think it would be a utopia, either. I think a world in which any material need could be met would draw some of the population even further into decadent withdrawal, while freeing others to pursue whatever endeavor they wanted. There would be no more "starving artists", but there would also be no more CEOs.

The idea is also somewhat foreshadowed in the current state of digital media. It costs nothing to make a copy of a song or TV show or movie, and very little time to share it. This doesn't quite seem the same as stealing a physical item, but it doesn't seem entirely right, either. There may come a day when we're able to share electronic equipment and motorcycles just like we share MP3s, and it may be sooner than you think.

I don't think it'll be the end of the world, though.

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