How Zero Marginal Cost, will cost you

If you haven’t grown up in a world of endless abundance it is hard to get your head around it. A friend of mine is in the army and does survival training. He told me a a great story about being out on secondment with the Canadian Army and was there to see how they train their troops.

My friend told me that some people just know how to get by in a ‘survival situation and other people really struggle.’ He was riding around on a snowmobile and jumping off to see each of the trainees dispersed through this frozen landscape and told to fend for them selves.

One of the recruits was found freezing to death, sat on her back back getting its contents wet, huddled over a tiny fire made from twigs. The fire had been going for so long at that size that it had dug a 12inch pipe into the snow. She was using it to keep her hands warm and sort of pain free while she slowly became hyperthermic. They had to tell her the training was over and get her back to civilisation.

Contrasted with that: there was another guy who had grown up in the Canadian Country side. When my friend saw his condition he couldn’t believe it. This guy was a big bloke. He had worked out that al the trees around him were brittle and that he was big enough to simply push whole trees to the ground in a circle so there trunks and branches overlapped. He had lit such a big fire that when they found him, he was dress down to his vest sat by an enormous fire sweating. Not only that he had time to set snares made from saplings. If memory serves this guy hadn’t caught one rabbit, he had caught three. They found him chilling out, eating cooked rabbit, claiming he was fine if a little board. So they left him out there for a few more days. I understand that he could have been left out there indefinitely.

My point is that if you have grown up in a suburban setting were fire wood is bought and payed for, then you will have a restricted view of what fire looks like. You might even think of it on a completely different scale. Your experiences put invisible walls up around you. This can happen even if you might be n some danger.

It’s called ‘absence blindness’: If you haven’t seen something done a certain way before you may make the imaginative leap, and be able to see how it could be done but If you have seen something done a certain way and that way works, to conceive of it being done differently, is an incredibly hard thing to do.

Its only human to assume that the way you have seen it done thousands of times before is the correct way. Social proof is telling you not to waist too much time or effort trying to be different. A life time of experience has shown you that your efforts will probably be waisted. The only problem is that you might not be able to see that your context is now completely different. We are not lighting a fire at home with logs that were bought as a treat. In this instance if the fire dies, its  not just disappointing. In this situation if the fire dies, we could as well.

I am 32. The world I grew up in was not one of endless abundance. My mind formed in a world where things cost money. That isn’t the world we live in now. Slowly and invisibly the world is changing all around us. Like an odourless combustible gas our atmosphere is changing. I don’t know if one spark will create an explosion but I have seen endless examples of the effect of Zero Marginal Cost at play.

A Maths teacher I know asked his team aged class why they weren’t taking notes? One of them said that they could simply photo the board at the end of the lesson. It was as ridiculous to them, that he wanted them to make notes, rather than sit and listen and understand what he was saying. After I here that story I stopped carrying a note pad around with me and started using my smart phone as a photo-logger. The idea didn’t occur to me because i grew up in a world were photo’s had a cost. In my head I wanted to leave room on ‘the film’ for photo’s of people. Photo’s on a phone now have effectively zero marginal cost. It is advantageous to be more frivolous with them.

Its not up to anyone of us to create every single coping strategy for this brave new world. I think the best defence is to foster relationships with people who hold genuinely diverse views. I reckon that platoons that walk off a cliff, do so in lock step.