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Better than Owning?

I have to think about this little bit more. Kevin Kelly has a compelling argument that access is better than ownership (because it comes with fewer responsibilities), for social goods such as movies, books, music. But one thing that strikes me is that while “consuming” might work in this model, the true test is what you can do with a good, and who gets to decide. In any case:

Ownership is not as important as it once was.

I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99% of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons. We are all granted this street access via our payment of local taxes. For almost any purpose I can think of, the roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits.

The web is also a social common good. The web is not the same as public roads, which are “owned” by the public, but in terms of public access and use, the web is a type of community good. The good of the web serves me as if I owned it. I can summon it in full, anytime, with the snap of a finger. Libraries share some of these qualities. The content of the books are not public domain, but their displays (the books) grant public access to their knowledge and information, which is in some ways better than owning them.

Very likely, in the near future, I won’t “own” any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won’t buy – as in make a decision to own — any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won’t own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to “own” it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership. [more…]


  1. Movies and audio, okay, I get it. But give up my dusty bookshelves? The traces of my past obsessions. The books I bought and intend to read *someday*. Never!

  2. Hugh Hugh 2009-01-28

    stick em all on yer iphone!

  3. Yes, yes. I know. Then I can read them when I’m in a queue somewhere. Fully agree. But still not willing to give up the object. Besides, they’re an important part of my home decor ;)

    And I have not yet given in to the iPhone. Still in Blackberry phase.

  4. dawn upfold dawn upfold 2009-01-30

    kevin kelly lives the consumer dream, and in that child’s illusion. the decrepit state of quebec roads and infrastructure quickly refutes the validity of living ‘as if’ owning without responsibility for maintenance. certainly he raises an important point, but to decide to embrace this philosophy is to become wells’ eloi. even the ‘net he presumes to “summon” can fall (and is falling right now, in the face of bell bandwidth throttling and threats to net neutrality).

    there are never fewer responsibilities; simply choices to embrace, or ignore them.

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