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Ephemeralization - Doing more with less - Buckminster Fuller (animated clip)

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Buckminster Fuller was a great story teller. His stories were really myths. A myth is a story that has a profound meaning. But all of the tales in a story aren't necessarily true. I heard him tell this story about bridges. The very first time I ever heard him speak and it changed the way I think about the world for the rest of my life. Bucky was standing in front of a blackboard and he drew a U-shape. "This is a canyon." he said, "There were people living on each side who needed to communicate and trade, but they couldn't get across. So they tried to figure out what they could do, and some of them started to dig up rocks and throw them into the canyon. Eventually, the canyon completely filled up with rocks, and it became the first bridge. The amazing thing about it was, is that it took millions of tons of stone and it took years and years to build, and all these tons of stone were used just to hold up a few 150-pound-people carrying something on their back to get across. But it enormously increased wealth because they could trade. But they discovered that there was a problem. There was a stream at the bottom and the stream water was building up on the back-end and causing a problem. So a few brave souls climbed down into the canyon and they knocked a few stones out of the very bottom and some of the water could get through. They made a bigger hole and then a bunch of the rocks collapsed and the hole disappeared. So they did it again. They kept doing it until they began to discover, that when the hole was a certain shape, it didn't fall back down. And they had discovered the arch! The key to an arch is its shape. An arch is actually not a thing, it's a hole of a certain shape. As they learned about what made better arches, what shape was absolutely best for keeping all those stones and the people on top of the bridge from falling into the earth, resisting gravity, they learned how to shape the arch in just the right way and the arch kept getting bigger and bigger. They were learning to do more with less. But there was a problem. Because it turns out, that there is an absolute limit to the amount of weight that stones can hold up, and so in a given size canyon there was a limit to how big the arch could be. So once they got to a certain point, progress seemed to stop. But about the same time there were people learning about iron. They were learning that they could dig up certain kinds of rocks that had iron in them. They could crush those rocks, separate the iron, melt it down and make it into different shapes. And if they made the iron into tubes and arranged the tubes into triangular forms, they could hold up things as well or even better than stone could. And with a lot less mass, a lot less material. So what they did was, they replaced the stone above the arch with a triangular truss of iron tubes and now even more of the mass was eliminated because there was no stone left in the bridge. There was only iron tubes with big spaces in between the tubes. Eventually someone asked "What would happen if you lifted the arch up above the canyon completely and had the road underneath the arch instead of on top of it?" So they made an arch out of iron and they made an iron truss between the arch and the road and they put it over the canyon and it worked perfectly. As people learned to make more and more effective trusses and learned to make pure iron tubes, the amount of iron necessary to span a certain size canyon kept going down. About that time there were also people learning about other metals and how you could make alloys by mixing metals. And when you did that, you could get more strength out of even less materials, and steel was invented. And people understood that steel had a characteristic that iron didn't have; it was good not just for compression, it was better for pulling things together. So you could make rope or cable out of steel. Eventually people discovered, that 'Wait, maybe you didn't need this iron arch at all. Maybe we could just take the steel cables, we could build two posts, put one at each side of the canyon and drape steel cables over the posts. And when you did that, you have actually an inverted arch, an upside down arch. You could take smaller cables and attach them to the big cable and hang them, drop them down, and hang the roadway from the cables. So now you have a bridge where the only compression members, the only function being performed by iron or rock is two posts, one at either side. And the rest of it is all wires; flexible, bendable, movable wires. As science and engineering discovered more about molecular strengths and characteristics and how atoms were arranged in molecules in different kinds of metals and in different kinds of mixed metals or alloys, the wires were able to get thinner and thinner and yet stronger and stronger. So the amazing thing is that over time bridges have gotten longer and longer and longer, over bigger rivers, over bigger bodies of water, over bigger canyons. And yet, as they've gotten longer, they've gotten stronger, and the amount of mass, the amount of materials needed to make that bridge per unit length and per unit strength have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. This is the principle of demass." So Bucky told this story and then he would stop in front of the blackboard and he would say: "There's no reason why we can't continue this 'doing more with less' until we've eliminated the wires altogether. We don't need anything to hold up the bridge." And there was a silence and then everyone laughed. And then he looked up into the sky and he waved his arms around. And he said "Look, I wave my arms between the Earth and the moon and the moon doesn't fall onto the Earth. The moon and the Earth are in a perfect tension-compression balance. And there is an invisible tether between the Earth and the moon, and they don't need a mass of materials to keep them in a wonderful structural arrangement. So the principle of demass, the principle of producing much much more useful benefit with much less resources is evident in the bridge industry, and it's evident in the computer industry, because we're all used to saying, that computers getting smaller and smaller but getting more and more powerful and using less and less energy and resources. But most of society is really still organized much like the stone bridge with a little hole at the bottom. We are using millions and millions of tons of resources for things which we don't need to use them for. We still build houses the same way we did a hundred years ago, even though our knowledge of materials and resources and being able to design integrated systems that would use a fraction of the materials and a fraction of the energy and a fraction of the water; we have that knowledge! dMASS is about learning to apply these principles of mimicking the way nature solves problems, and applying them to all aspects of our lives in order to reduce the total amount of mass that is invested in producing the wealth and the progress that we all want and to being able to take care of ourselves and the entire population of the planet on a sustainable basis.

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 10 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animated
Producer: dMass
Director: dMass
Views: 162
Posted by: tzmgermany on Jul 1, 2014

This clip is a short but powerful animated story about using design to create sustainable wealth, and it provides essential insights into the future of innovation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephemeralization - Source: dMass
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