In an Edge article (via the indefatigable Arts and Letters Daily), Clay Shirky writes the following:
It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.
On a visceral level this is easy to quibble with--scarcity of food, medical care, or security can "break" bodies, not just conceptions, but on a spiritual or informational level it rings true. Scarcity is the mother of beauty and desire, whereas plenitude, whereas it intoxicates, also cheapens. And I think this effect interacts with temperament, such that some experience it rather more intensely than others.
Of course, this insight, such as it is, merely rephrases the law of supply and demand on a psychological level and therefore is itself an example of redundancy and "surplus." Perhaps there is neither exception to nor escape from the law of dimishing returns.
Isn't this why childhood is felt so intensely, because experience itself remains relatively scarce at tender ages? If it is true, as Shirky and many others seem to feel, that we live in an unprecedented time (whether because of information overload, the 65-year-old threat of nuclear holocaust, or the point of no return of environmental degradation), then perhaps this century will be the coming-of-age of humanity, for better or worse.
I remember once reading a remark by the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips that adolescence is the time in which one decides whether life is worth living. I'm not sure that I agree with that at all, but one hopes in adolescence to achieve a certain critical mass of experience, such that one at least has a good sense of what living entails, and crucially, what it it might entail in the future. Arguably one's susceptibility to deep surprise decreases in proportion to maturity. In that sense adulthood whether of a person or a civilization is a kind of denouement.