Our houses are getting bigger

Rick Bookstaber makes the point on Business Insider that technology is increasingly changing the way we live our lives (also here). He comes at it from the perspective of Commodities but his thoughts parallel my own personal experience of how technology is changing my living arrangements:

Our demand for housing and transportation, two of the biggest commodity hogs, will be lower. McMansions will be totally passe. It should already be dawning on people that most all of our non-sleeping hours at home are spent in the kitchen and its adjacent family room. Living rooms and dining rooms are relics. When people internalize the fact that they spend most of their non-sleeping, non-bathroom, non-eating time in a ten by twelve foot space with their various experience machine prototypes, large homes will, by and large, go the way of cars with fins and chrome.

We obviously will not need to drive around as much, given that so much of what we want is delivered to us electromagnetically. And, getting back to real goods and technological advances, if we take the web-based distribution a few steps further, rather than having thousands of cars running from one store to the next, a couple of delivery trucks will ply the streets. So per-capita consumption of energy and resource-intensive infrastructure will decrease.

Given our evolved interests a few decades hence, most of us will be spending a fraction of our income on consumption. There just won’t be a lot that we will demand that requires nonrenewable resources. What we will demand will be in the way of electronic products, which will only consume a few ounces of such commodities. We will basically eat, sleep, work and then veg out. Give us food, plumbing, heat and our two-hundred dollar experience machine games, and we will be happy as a clam.

Whilst I’m no fan of the video games etc. there are some very important breakthroughs which are causing the “stuff” in our house to shrink and hence the overall living space to effectively grow. For example:

  • We no longer have piles of DVDs lying around – an AppleTV for every TV, plus a home media server, means we just don’t need them (the CDs went years ago, in the same way). Plus we can get rid of the DVD player.
  • TVs have got smaller – if you think how dominant a CRT TV was, compared to a new Flat Panel TV, you basically get a another few feet of the room back plus a lot of flexibility in room layout.
  • Devices have collapsed into one – we no longer have separate TV, Audio system etc., it is all in the TV & AppleTV – although we still have separate speakers.
  • My personal filing has disappeared – everything is now scanned into a computer, and in my case stored in PatentSafe where it is nicely searchable and categorised. Not only has this saved a lot of space, it also makes finding things *so* much easier. Plus I can back it up off site, and also access things from anywhere I have Internet.
  • Books, Magazines etc. are all collapsing into the iPad and the Kindle. For a family of 4 heavy readers this is a major space saving, especially when you also get rid of technical books and recipe books.

I estimate I’ve taken 1 bedroom worth of “Stuff” out of our living areas in the past year. Sure I’ve had to invest a bit but if you look at how much it would have cost to move to a larger house, it is a real bargain.

The same thing is happening at work, too. We’re gradually working our way through all the paper and eliminating it which not only removes the paper it also removes all the stuff you have to look after paper – files, envelopes, printers, fax machines, etc. I don’t know what proportion of a typical office is dedicated to paper and everything that goes with it, but it is substantial. We realised the other day that we rarely use our printer these days, the fax machine is dusty, and we have to stop buying envelopes in office-sized quantities because the adhesive goes off before we use them.

Digitisation at work and home means it doesn’t really where I am anymore. In fact I do look at the overall costs of an office and wonder why we have one at all. I think there are a lot of businesses who have offices just because they have always had an office, but I suspect if they were aggressive about digitising, they would be able to remove a massive fixed cost with relatively small investment.

So, if you want a larger house go and get a new TV or two, some AppleTVs, a Kindle each, a few iPads, and a scanner (I am in love with the Fujitsu ScanSnap). For a few thousand pounds you can get yourself a larger, less cluttered living space – much cheaper than moving house! Plus, you get to reduce your environmental footprint…