Overall, I’m optimistic. Got problems? Same here. I need to find additional work. My house, car, and self are requesting repairs. Yet, I’m optimistic. One friend calls it the Trimbath Sanguinity. I also like the term apocaloptimist. There’s a crisis amongst us, and I think what comes next might be alright. Here are some trends that I listed from just one day of casual web browsing.
Mass produced electric cars have been tried before, and famously squelched. A good idea resurges, and does so with broad appeal and without trying to mimic old solutions. Electric cars are becoming common enough that there’s no reason to comment on them as they drive by. I’ve ridden in a few, and a few hybrids, and after the first few minutes the novelty is replaced with a normal drive. The range may be an issue, but that is only going to improve, not degrade.
Electric bicycles sound like they should just be toys considering the weight involved in batteries for electric cars. They do weigh more than a normal bicycle, but the extra weight doesn’t slow them down much. On my bicycle commute route is a one or two hundred foot hill. An electric bicycle climbed past me without hesitation. Its range may be limited, but just clearing that hill from my commute would save me ten minutes. People in flatter terrain are seeing the advantage.
LEDs aren’t just light bulbs. It is easy to forget that they are Light Emitting Diodes, little bits of electronics. Their efficiency is impressive. Their lifespan is impressive. The rapidity of the price drop is becoming impressive. My local grocery sells subsidized ones for $4. Any extra cost is worth the extra life, and mine don’t have the annoying buzz of the CFLs I tried.
Someone did remember that LEDs are electronics and decided to try using them for more than just light. US electricity cycles on and off 60 times a second. That’s fast enough that our eyes can’t detect the 50% of the time they are off, but that is slow compared to computer speeds. But, LEDs can be cycled at high enough speeds that they can send data. Instead of using radio waves to create wi-fi (and creating some health concerns), LED lights can be designed to act as a local internet called li-fi. The bad news is that the light is stopped by obvious things like walls. The good news is that the signal is much more secure. Hackers can’t get the signals from inside closed rooms. Hospital rooms don’t have interference from other hospital rooms. And, those wi-fi health concerns are avoided. Someone will find something wrong with li-fi too, but maybe all they need is to leave the room rather than live in the wilderness or in a faraday cage.
LEDs are also showing up in monitors, not like in the flat panel displays on our laptops, but as pico projectors. Whether or not MicroVision succeeds with its MEMS mirror oscillating red, green, and blue laser diodes, computers, televisions, monitors, and an immense array of fragile flat glass electronics that require immense quantities of resources, transportation, and disposal costs will be replaced with projectors the size of postage stamps that necessarily take far fewer resources and leave far less waste.
Being able to print documents at home was a dramatic change for every household. The ability to print color and photographs continued the trend. Those impacts are small compared to the advent of 3-D printing. It might seem like a toy that can print toys; but the implications are far greater. Even if the price of the part doesn’t change, being able to buy something and print it rather than ship it dramatically reduces the cost of time, shipping, packaging, warehousing, and the waste of discarding unsold inventory. Just like print-on-demand means authors no longer have to store books and ship them to buyers, individuals will be able to design parts, sell the designs, and enjoy the royalties. Passive income is a nice thing. Decreasing waste in resources and time is even better.
If you haven’t seen them, you probably will. Tiny houses
are a growing answer to a population that either can’t make enough for normal mortgages, or don’t want normal mortgages, or have realized that they’d rather own a house than have a house that’s so big that it owns them. Everyone’s answer is different, but a bit of self-examination of basic needs means a house below 1,000 square feet usually suffices. I live in 860 square feet, and could just as easily live in 600 square feet. Others push a bit more, happily declutter, and get down to 120 square feet, some even less. Rather than being spartan, tiny houses tend to have high-end everything because the total cost of the house is so low because it is so small. Total impact on the environment is lower, especially when it comes to heating. Total impact on the owner is less in terms of upfront costs, recurring costs, while allowing more free time because there’s less house to take care of. If you have to move, put it on some wheels or load it on a truck and relocate.
Solar cell efficiency is increasing. The cost is reducing. The subsidies help, but oil, gas, nuclear, every other energy source is subsidized, and sometimes more that solar. Residential solar is becoming popular enough that it is impacting conventional power generation. A destructive economic cycle is developing around conventional power because of solar and wind. As more people use alternative energy, fewer people are using conventional. Fewer people maintaining the old system means the cost per capita for conventional power goes up. That provides and incentive to use solar and wind, which feeds the cycles. Many environmentalists have pushed for energy policy changes, but basic economics and the acts of individuals may have a stronger effect.
Walk Away movement
I am witnessing what I am calling the Walk Away Movement. Some of the advances I’ve mentioned above, as well as others, are enabling people to become more self-sufficient. Transportation, energy efficiency, power generation, sustainable housing, and self-manufacturing, are joining an increasing population of people growing their own food, making their own clothes, repairing rather than replacing things, building communities, and learning skills that extend beyond sitting on the couch with a remote. The power structures are providing disincentives to participate in politics, and public advocacy; so why try to change a Senator’s mind when it is easier to stay home and be a role model.
Go ahead and groan, but we groan about social media via social media because it is far more effective at connecting with personal networks that anything that came before; except when villages were small enough that everyone could fit in the pub. Good ideas travel faster and farther because we shout it out and people listen. Phone calls, snail mail, and public meetings can’t reach as large of an engaged audience as an idea that goes viral.
Whether you inhale or not, legalized marijuana is one example of how ideas are spreading. Despite our concerns about control, social media is far less controlled than anything coming through the official channels or conventional news media. it is now much easier to check data, listen to debate, and make up our own minds. We won’t all agree, but we’re at least working at an amazing array of issues far more effectively than the US Congress.
Much of what I’ve just described is the consequence of the Age of Silicon. Even a bit of both sides of the political dysfunction and the WalkAway Movement are enabled by the information that flows through silicon chips. Graphene is almost magical in how much better it is. Graphene isn’t just a replacement for silicon’s conductivity. Graphene is also a building material so strong that an elephant standing on a pencil point isn’t enough force to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of clingwrap. The difference between the strength of chemical bonds and molecular bonds creates astonishing characteristics. Graphene is nothing more than sheets of carbon. The holes between the atoms are smaller than water. That means a material that is strong and waterproof that also conducts electricity and heat. How about a roof and walls that are only one atom thick? The resources required to hold them up would be minimal, and fewer resources are used.
Consciousness, The Universe
The most powerful positives may be the progress we’re making in understanding consciousness and our place in the Universe. The insights are simultaneously humbling and inspiring. We reaching beyond compassion based on “Because I told you to.” and fundamentally learning about our similarities and interconnections. We may finally reach the point where people treat other people as if they were people, no labels applied.
Ironically, most of these ideas don’t affect my daily life. My financial situation is improved, which some take to mean resolved, but which I know is insufficient and fragile. While one of my major clients is closing their project, and I continue to look for an improvement, I’ve also had fun, actual fun, working for a new client. An article I wrote for Curbed Seattle, went to #1 regionally, then #3 nationally, and then was picked up by a news outlet. It had more views than there are seats in the Tacoma Dome. Now, that’s encouragement! Especially, because I did something similar the month before.
I may be hitting my niche, explaining things as diverse as real estate, aerospace, and finance in conversational and entertaining terms. Exercise that, and couple it with my joy in simplifying complex program plans, and my financial situation may get back to repair-the-house money, or more. We may be hitting our niche, in areas that we’ve all become aware of, but in ways that are creating a new mainstream that is hopefully pointed in a much better direction for everyone. Okay, I feel optimistic again. (I’ll look at the bills later.)