Digital Scarcity

There is a tension between abundance and scarcity in many fields, and the same is true for computing. This all boils down to the idea of equality versus identity.

Equality / Copy Abundance

Computers are extremely good at making copies of things. They rely on copies all the way from the processor cache through database backups. It's what makes email, video calls, and file sharing possible.

We can extend this idea to get protocols like BitTorrent and IPFS: files easily accessible, shared from multiple sources. Today there can be so many copies of some data that it's actually faster to grab it from multiple peers than from one canonical source.

Identity / Data Scarcity

Computers are very good at generating and tracking long strings of bits. There are more possible unique strings that will fit on a typical modern laptop than there are atoms in solar system. We could give a bucket full of atoms to everyone that has ever lived and still have plenty of material left. By the minor miracle of cryptography, you can prove that you have access to certain unique strings.

Some things are considered unique simply because the community has agreed that this one is special. One can consider Warhol prints from the original templates to be "authentic", but some are valued in the millions and others are essentially worthless, simply because our society has agreed to limit how many can be considered "original".

These ideas are the opposite of equality: things that are unique or restricted, and thus cannot be copied without losing "uniqueness." This may be a board certifying that some art is special, or a smart contract with a blessed mapping of user IDs to content hashes.