Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gadgets and the Jevons Paradox

The NYTimes has a nice article describing how increases in the electrical efficiency of consumer electronics is actually leading to an increase in electrical consumption (because the number of gadgets we have is increasing). This trend will only get worse as we move toward the world of ubiquitous computing described in Adam Greenfield's book Everyware.

This same process occurred with automobiles, increases in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction from catalytic converters were offset by increases in the amount driven and, as a result, auto emissions were not reduced. The phenomena is so well know that economists have a name for it, the Jevons Paradox, referring to the tendency for technological increases in the efficiency with which a resource is used to increase, rather than decrease, the rate of consumption of that resource.

The folks over at Workers of the World Relax have put together a video about the paradox, suggesting that the solution is for North Americans to follow the European model and use productivity gains to increase the amount of leisure time rather than to increase production and consumption.

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