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Abundance Anxiety: The Problem of Having too Much

December 21st, 2010 · No Comments · Ideas

Big Ideas: We live in a world of great abundance.
“How do you choose when the constraints of geography, income and circumstance disappear?”
The former world demanded relentless fixity of purpose and quick-handed snatching at opportunity;
the new world demands the kind of self-knowledge that comes from quiet, mindful introspection.

We no longer live in a world of scarce resources, this is a time of great abundance. Our economic constraints are being completely flipped around. It is not a dog eat dog world where everyone is fighting for their share of the pie. There is enough to go around and the more we collaborate and share, the more there is.

Abundance makes it incredibly difficult to choose or focus. We have so many great options that it is becoming near impossible to narrow down our choices. This inability to commit is the source of much of our anxiety and stress. I have covered this topic several times in previous posts and animations: Abundance Breaks More Things than Scarcity, The Most Important Skill in a World of Information Overload and Focus is More Important Than Knowledge.

Author Cory Doctorow writes about his struggles with abundance in the self-publishing of his books on The Guardian,  The Internet Problem: when an abundance of choice becomes an issue.

My internet problem is the one so many of us struggle with: how do you choose when the constraints of geography, income and circumstance disappear? What goes in a playlist when all the music ever recorded is one click away? Which experts’ thought processes should you tap into when tens of millions of them are on Twitter? How do you choose a book from the millions that you can discover with a Google Books search?

Once upon a time, the questions of which books, music, experts and experiences you should try were largely answered by circumstance. Which books to read? Which ones can you afford, which ones are on the library’s shelf, which ones are in the shop, which ones can you discover? The pool of experts was limited to people who lived nearby or those to whom your immediate circle could introduce you. Half the problem was solved by default – the cost of seeking out a very rare book almost always exceeded the value you’d get from reading it.

But as hard as it is to navigate the infinite universe of potential input, deciding what to do with all that information is even harder.

But more than ever, I’m realising that the old problem of overcoming constraints to action has been replaced by the new problem of deciding what to do when the constraints fall away. The former world demanded relentless fixity of purpose and quick-handed snatching at opportunity; the new world demands the kind of self-knowledge that comes from quiet, mindful introspection.

An abundance of opportunity is a funny kind of problem to wrestle with, but it is a problem – and a hard one, since abundance manifests itself as noise that must be ignored in order to stop reacting and start introspecting.

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