Brad Stone had an article in the Technology section of the NY Times today entitled, Breakfast Can Wait. The Day's First Stop is Online. My interest was piqued about the state of information today and how we value it (or if we even can). Stone's article documents a few trends shaping the American morning through the morning ritual of the Gude's: a family of four from Lansing, Michigan who's morning ritual has been invaded by tweets, facebook statuses, and emails. At the Gude house, Dad even goes so far as to text his son's to wake them up in place of an alarm clock. As I read, I began reminiscing on venerated childhood memories of my parents waking my brother and I up in our bunk beds by tickling our feet until we couldn't stifle the laughter anymore. An oddity about the situation began to reveal itself: you see, I was placing more value on my memory of the analog version of being awoken by my parents culled from my childhood than on its digital counterpart in Michigan while I slowly realized that reading this article on my laptop was the first, strike that, second thing I did after waking up (first I checked my email). We all, it seems, are victims of our laptops and iPhones.
Value is produced by a scarcity. My memory of being tickled awake is finite, that is to say, it happened when I was much younger and it doesn't come to mind particularly often, making it scarce and therefore valuable. Today, the New York Times costs $2 for a Weekday edition which is a price settled on after taking into account the cost of production / distribution and the fact that 1,039,031 weekday papers are circulated in New York City. A paper can be valued at $2 because there is a finite number of them, albeit a large number. I read the article, the same one printed in the $2 Monday paper today, on nytimes.com for free. What then is the value of the article? Is it $2 or $0? It seems that the $0 price tag doesn't imply that the article is somehow worthless, but rather that it is invaluable. Our semantic equation for understanding value breaks down when something becomes infinite, endlessly accessible, and divorced from space itself. The value of a physical object is self evident, we understand how to value something that can be held in our hands, something that occupies space significantly, something made of matter. When confronted with the same content in the form of a streaming set of 1s and 0s we are unable to value it the same way, there is no scarcity because the content becomes infinite, part of the ether that the Gude's and I (and in all likelihood, you) are eating for breakfast.
Architecture is a discipline fundamentally tied to value. The idea for Architects, after-all, is that we are better educated than you, more world-weary than you, better dressed than you, know more celebrities than you do, were just at a party that you could never get into, and eat things that you've never even heard of - all in service of some mystical capacity to enhance your quality of life in ways you couldn't possibly imagine. Of course, the only real reason the lay-world tolerates Architects is that the discipline adds capital value to real estate. That's all: for the last 500 years, Architecture has usually been a pretty good investment. Which brings us back to the Gude's. As Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Google are reconfiguring the way we construct an identity, interact with each other, and building an ever larger "realm of the invaluable," Architects and Designers are uniquely positioned to act on behalf of breakfast. I mean to say, to engage the matter of everyday life where the stakes for interpreting value in new ways are the highest. Perhaps a text message that tickles would temper the Gude's rushed strides toward evolving us all into Kubrickesque Star-children. Or maybe a New York Times Online article that smells like coffee would do the trick... At any rate, tomorrow morning I'm not going to check my email until I have a couple poached eggs next to my laptop.