In the novel “World Made By Hand”:http://www.worldmadebyhand.com/, authour “James Howard Kunstler”:http://www.kunstler.com (interviewed “here”:http://www.comedycentral.com/colbertreport/videos.jhtml?videoId=167409 by Stephen Colbert) argues that American daily life will change drastically when the oil runs out. He sees no future for the city infrastructure that has grown up around the popularization of cars (ie. suburbs), and is pessimistic about the industrial economic infrastructure that depends so much on transcontinental shipping.
When oil becomes too scarce, America collapses into 18th century-esque plantations, and a dystopian culture one reviewer describes as:
bq. [an] uneasy Darwinian jostling, local warlordism and gangsterish Machiavellian counterpunching among various ugly power cells, with a bunch of religion leavening the stink, er … the stew.
I submit that an alternative infrastructure is already being put into place that will take over more and more from the hydrocarbon-based economic infrastructure. This burgeoning infrastructure is already helping to relieve the burden on the industrial infrastructure as well as maintain the cultural infrastructure. More and more the networks tying the national economy together are based on communications technology, particularly wireless communications. I have talked previously about WiMax and Africa. Once these technologies become widespread in industrial nations as well (hopefully before the post-oil collapse of civilization), they will be leveraged to maintain communications networks accessible even to the lowliest plantation owner. This network has an economic impact that we can already see.
For example, more and more economic consumption takes place in bits and bytes. Between the iTunes Store and Amazon’s Kindle (which I _would_ own if I were in the US), my personal carbon imprint has been drastically cut, whereas my consumption (and thereby contribution to the economy) has actually increased due to the convenience of the devices. The megastores and malls of suburbia are no sanctuary to the digital consumer.
Note that I don’t think that ICT will solve the problem of oil demand and scarcity. Obviously food, clothing and other physical objects will have to be shipped or made (in “resilient” communities?) for consumption in alternative ways, possibly as described in the book. My argument is that more digital consumption will help soften the “shock” of Kunstler’s future scenario. Rather than isolated plantation fiefdoms scattered randomly about the countryside, imagine a post-modern collection of tightly networked communities, openly sharing information to survive and coordinate a loose, “international” economy.
*DISCLAIMER:* I have not read the book myself, so forgive me if something like this appears in Kunstler’s writing. If anyone has read the book we would like to hear from you in the comments.