by Flemming Funch, 11 Mar 95.

Buckminster Fuller was very fond of the word "ephemeralization", which he used roughly in the sense of "progressively accomplishing more with less". A gradually smaller and smaller amount of materials and effort will accomplish more and more useful functions. We get better and better at using materials in more sophisticated ways, so we need less and less quantity of materials.

Bucky gives many examples. It took Magellan two years to sail around the planet in a wooden sailing ship in 1520. 350 years later it took a steel steamship two months to do the same. 75 years later a plane, made of metal alloys, took 2 weeks to fly around the planet. 35 years later a space capsule, made of exotic metals, takes 1 hour to circle the planet. Continuously the materials used get lighter and stronger and more versatile.

Not only can we do more with less, the rate of doing-more-with-less-ness is increasing. There is an acceleration taking place.

We can also very well project out that the eventual result of increasingly doing more with less is doing everything with nothing. Bucky gives examples of how war shifted to being fought more effectively with PR and economics (i.e. with no equipment) rather than with lots of heavy equipment.

Now, the example of the Internet readily comes to mind. The Internet represents a degree of ephemeralization that allows one individual to influence or interact with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, with a use of resources that is negligible.

For example, my Internet account costs $17.50 per month. I get on the average 150 messages per day and I send 15. I have two mailing lists where 400 people are having an ongoing discussion. I participate in about 10 other mailing lists and several newsgroups, together with thousands of members. I have a Web area where more than a 100 people visit every day and look at about 800 different documents with a total of 10 million bytes of information. About one person per day picks up one of the training manuals I've written from my ftp site.

If I were in the business of information (which I pretty much am) then that is a heck of a lot of action to get for $17.50. If somebody sends me a check for one of my training manuals, which happens about once per month, it would cost me in the neighborhood of the same $17.50 plus an hour of my time to go to the local copy shop and produce one paper copy, which I then need to package and send. And then maybe one person will be happy.

Somebody is bound to say: "Sure, but are you making any money off of that Internet stuff?" No, I am not, but that is not the point, unless my purpose in life is "making money" which it isn't. I accomplish a lot more of what I want with a lot less than what would previously have been required.

But now, this is the all fine in the area of information, that is ephemeralized now. Next would be other areas of life.

I would hardly have to work for money to pay for my Internet account. I could mow somebody's lawn once per month and that would take care of that. But unfortunately I still seem to need money for housing, transportation, food, energy, insurance, taxes and stuff like that. That is where we need ephemeralization next.

I have the suspicion that somebody is deliberately and artificially keeping these basics of life ineffective and expensive. Despite phenomenally accelerating technological changes, these necessities appear to take about the same trouble to acquire as they did 50 years ago. They offer more comfort and more features and they are somewhat more evenly distributed, but they still work roughly the same way. That doesn't quite add up when compared with the actual rate of technological change. Looks like somebody's trying to make us keep running around for money, rather than accomplishing the most with what we can and know.

So, I am very interested in anything that will ephemeralize other areas of our lives than information. I think it is inevitable that the means for doing so will appear, despite forces that might want to work the other way. I agree with Fuller that it is an inherent element in evolution.

It makes no sense to me that one would have to work half one's life to be able to pay for a box to come home to and sleep in. It makes even less sense to me that most of the western world has laws (building codes) decreeing that you can only build stuff in roughly the same ways.

I can't believe that a car is still this heavy 4 wheel metal thing with a fossil fuel engine. It is nicer to drive in than 50 years ago, but also somebody's trying to push the idea on us that it has to be much more complicated and take specialized technicians with specialized tools and computers to repair.

I would like the tools so I can build my car and my house by myself, just like I can set up my Web area by myself. And I'd like good enough tools so I can build some that others can use too, without wearing out my resources.

Energy is probably the most important area to get ephemeralized and put into people's hands. I don't want to buy energy, I'd like to buy some tools for making or acquiring energy that allow me to produce it for nothing from that point on. There should be no incremental cost for each unit of energy produced, just as a good Internet account shouldn't charge you anything per byte or per message.

- Flemming