04/15/2009 10:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Designing for Nextopia

Swedish author Micael Dahlen hypothesizes in his just-released book "Nextopia" that we're all in relentless pursuit of the next big thing: the next job, next iPhone, next relationship, next useless bling. And the quest will continue, Dahlen says, because humans can only be happy for about three months at a time.

What a bummer! If Dahlen is right, it kind of puts a kibosh on plans to save the earth, slow down mindless consumption and figure out the pace of population and GNP our planet can deal with, doesn't it?

Well, not entirely. Dahlen says Nextopia, or the relentless pursuit of (new) happinesses, is a biological imperative. That familiar desire and drive for the next thing won't go away even though as a society we recognize that Earth's systems are starting to tap out.

Right now the story of stuff is that it is designed to be thrown away, and soon. We can channel our desires, however, and start designing with Nextopia in mind. That means accepting that we need the stimulation of the new and novel, while embracing the idea that we don't have to own the stuff in order to get the feeling.

In fact, when we get right down to it, ownership can be fairly onerous. Wouldn't you be happy with a lot less stuff if you knew that when you wanted that 'new' feeling you could easily afford it? That's where the concept of product service systems comes in. Instead of mortgaging our souls to get more stuff, we can meet our needs and desires by borrowing, renting, and sharing. Sharing Our Toys, which we all learned in kindergarten, on a global scale.

Car sharing is the most developed example right now. Zipcar was an off-the-wall idea just a few short years ago. People shook their heads. Why share a car when the idea of owning-your-own was the pinnacle of American freedom?

Times change, however. Now there is more freedom for many of us in getting out from under car payments, insurance payments and upkeep costs to only buy the miles we want and need to drive. And why own one car when you can instead have access to 25 different ones?

Zipcar is only the start. Netflix is the other great example, and it is even hitting its second generation with the ability to instantly download rather than wait for the movies to physically arrive. Product service systems for everything from renting city bikes to sharing neighborhood tools are already evolving all over. It's not only necessary, and more sustainable. It's the next big thing.

More from TreeHugger on product service systems
::Mio Introduces its First Product Service System
::What Makes a Good Product Service System?
::TreeHugger Picks: Product Service Systems (Part II)
::Product Service Systems: Puppy the World
::Product Service Systems: Japan's Cat Cafes