Jevons Paradox and Muntzing

Phone calls used to be so expensive while I was growing up and the cost increased exponentially as the distances increased. Often I had to plan what to talk to people when making a call to keep it short; as my entire pocket money for the month can be used up if I spoke to my parents for 30 minutes during peak hours. Communication was expensive so that people planned carefully on how to talk, when to talk and how much to talk. Some people even chose to be contactable only in person and mails by avoiding a telephone line to save big on telephone costs.

What happens when something that was expensive becomes cheap, do we spend that savings elsewhere? This is where Jevons Paradox occurs. When communication became cheaper we stared overdoing it. What used to be a routine 3 minute call to a friend once in a while is now well over 30 minutes. We started paying more by time spent rather than money spent. It is a systems problem, the inefficiency just moves to another place.

This is applicable for anything, food was expensive and refrigerating food was even more expensive so we had invented a lot of ways to carefully store, cook right amounts, recycle leftovers into new dishes and also find ways to preserve through fermentation, pickling etc. My grandmother almost never generated trash or food waste to be dumped, all the edible portions were eaten and organic waste like peels went to plants which again gave back food. We are talking about this cycle as a new way of simple life and as if no one did this before.

This is an important factor in web development in particular and software development overall. Developers are given a lot more freehand to use resources at will to deliver the experience for the user. This has resulted in loading a ~500 KB homepage of which most of the code that is downloaded and processed is not directly useful or seen by the user (A good portion would be to track what a user is doing!). In a constrained environment, elegant solutions appear; in an abundant environment everything is bloated and there is no judicious use. A single webpage can potentially crash a browser or slow down the entire system.

How can this be solved? In many other industries the problem of plenty is not there for users, there are always constraints to work with to get efficient and elegant solutions. We need something like ‘Muntzing‘ for software industry; instead of needlessly hammering through generic all in all bloated solutions we can cut out the fat and concentrate only on core work.


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