Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives

Hi everyone, hope you’re all staying healthy and safe! I wasn’t able to attend the virtual Antilibraries gathering on April 5, but have attended an in-person one in the past and really enjoyed it.

Thought I would add a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, but has been gathering dust on my shelf. It’s called Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. From my understanding, it offers a behavioral-economics perspective on the concept of scarcity, and why the concept of having less than we need is so difficult for both everyday people and companies to manage.

As the world is spending so much more time online than usual amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve been thinking more about what is, and is not, scarce in the specific context of online media, entertainment and communication. While this book seems to focus more on physical rather than digital scarcity, I hope it’ll offer some insights into the digital world as well!


Ooooh, this is fascinating.

Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why the same sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before.

The overall gist of this seems to be scarcity producing negative outcomes, compared to the world where it’s so often used as a design feature to produce more coordinated outcomes. (Carbon credits for example maybe?)

Digital media is also really interesting as I think it’s current abundance is producing negative outcomes for both industry and individual’s psychological relationship to art, and scarcity seems like a feature to bring back.

But maybe there are two different kinds of scarcity at play here, something like personal scarcity, where individuals don’t have enough, and system scarcity? Just riffing!

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Hey thanks for sharing and hope to see you at the next antilibraries live event!

Nice, this sounds very relevant both to creators / folks selling things online (framing scarcity in a positive way, experiences over goods, etc.) and for consumers (managing time / attention).

Hmm yeah like scarcity in the absolute sense / macro level, vs. how it’s distributed, or even how it’s perceived, on the individual level… Definitely a lot of interesting intersection here of psychology + econ + systems thinking!

One example I like to think of here is that of…the antilibrary :smile: In a sense, an abundance of potential books loosely on your radar, even an overwhelming number, can make the (by contrast) very scarce # of books you’re actually able to read more manageable — you can be more confident in prioritizing any particular book the more other books you consciously do not read.

Also tangentially relevant and I think something you’d both enjoy if you haven’t come across it, is this post from Kevin Kelly on “eight generatives better than free” — a collection of qualities that can be associated with digital goods that are essentially uncopyable and thus still potentially quite valuable even when most digital goods themselves trend the other direction ( infinitely copyable & free).