Archive for February, 2007

Social Trends 1: Tiny Houses

February 28, 2007

Many years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with building my own house. I read many detailed books on house design and even some complex architectural design books. I’m glad I never became an architect. Calculating beam loads and tensions is hard.

So, the other day PerryA ran across a news article on tiny houses, the latest trend in personal housing. She passed it on to me and I was hooked. I had to follow this trail. These things are so damned cute. But they are designed to be efficient and functional and real people actually live in them. Take a look here.

This trend, and it appears to be one, is significant, especially if you couple it with the growing interconnectedness of the Internet, and the availability of small CAD/CAM hardware and software, and the developing infrastructure of delivery systems like UPS and FedEx.

I once worked in a community college, and the head of the CAD/CAM department gave me a tour of the facility. He showed me students working on design in one classroom, and other students taking the design files and putting them into Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) machines, where the designs were rendered into real objects by high speed cutters in housings, not much larger than a household refrigerator, from billets of aluminum, brass, steel, plastic, and even wood.

He told me that many of his graduates had started their own businesses (usually in idyllic rural settings), building small parts that were sent to assembly plants where they were combined with other small parts – made by other people like them – into large consumer-level machines, like printers, cars, even house parts.

Although a bit dated, The Cluetrain Manifesto gets it mostly right. The interconnectedness of the Net changes everything, from manufacturing, to delivery to lifestyles.

Another variable driving this is the aging of the boomers. They no longer have childern in the home and so don’t need large houses. They are easy to maintain and keep clean, and they are easy to get around in for those with age-related disabilities.

An advantage of small structures is that they are modular, so one structure could be the living room, another the kitchen, yet another the bathroom, and yet another (or more) could be small workshops or studios or offices.

I am sure there are many other implications connected to this one trend, and they may be obvious to you (but not to me). Sometimes asking obvious questions is a revolutionary act.

  • Will this lead to more “ruralification?”
  • What will happen to the transportation infrastructure?
  • What will happen to the communications infrastructure?
  • Will tiny houses lead to isolation and alienation, or will they lead to more conviviality and sociality?
  • How is this related to the larger social change characterized by decentralization?

I am interested in your take on this. Is this a fluke, or is it a real trend? What are the socioeconomic implications of a “distributed society?”

So, what are you thinking today? Do you know of other social trends?