In a Dematerialized Economy, Sharing is Better than Owning

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= In a dematerialized economy, sharing is better than owning!!

The above is the thesis of an interesting thoughtpiece by Kevin Kelly. It explains the shift from private to social property, how it is related to the principle of dematerialization, and briefly reviews some different forms of socialized possession.

Kevin Kelly [1]:

1. Sharing is better than owning

“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.

For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. No responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage. As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes. It’s not hard to imagine most other intangible goods becoming social goods as well. Games, education, and health info are also headed in that direction.

As creations become digital they tend to become shared, ownerless goods. We can turn this around and say that in this realm of bits, property itself becomes a more social endeavor. Property may be less about title and more about usage and control.”


2. The principle of dematerialization

“According to the principle of dematerialization, all goods are having their atoms infused with bits, decreasing their weight per performance, so that all material goods increasingly behave as if they were intangible services. This means that lumber, steel, chemicals, food, cars, plane flights – everything made – can also be governed by the principles of intangible goods. As goods become disembodied, infused with slivers of mind, and packed full of bits, they will also obey the new dynamics of property. Soon enough everything manufactured will potentially become social property.

As cars become more “electronic” or digital, they will tend to be swapped and shared and used in a social way. The more we embed intelligence and smarts into clothing the more we’ll treat these articles as common property. We’ll share aspects of them (perhaps what they are made of, where they are, what climate they see), which means that we’ll think of ourselves as sharing them. ”


3. The Age of Omni-access

“Sharing intangibles scales magnificently. This ability to share on a large scale without diminishing the satisfaction of the individual renter is transformative. The total cost of use drops precipitously (shared by millions instead of one). Suddenly, ownership is not so important. Why own, when you get the same utility from renting, leasing, licensing, sharing?

But more importantly why even possess it? Why take charge of it at all if you have instant, constant, durable, full access to it? If you lived inside of the world’s largest rental store, why would you own anything? If you can borrow anything you needed without possessing it, you gain the same benefits with fewer disadvantages. If this was a magic rental store, where most of the gear was stored “downstairs” in a virtual basement, then whenever you summoned an item or service it would appear at your command.

The internet is this magic rental store. Its virtual basement is infinite, and it provides omni-access to its holdings. There are fewer and fewer reasons to own, or even possess anything. Via omni-access the most ordinary citizen can get hold of a good or service as fast as possessing it. The quality of the good is equal to what you can own, and in some cases getting hold of it may be faster than finding it on your own in your own “basement.”

Access is so superior to ownership, or possession, that it will drive the emerging intangible economy. The chief holdup to full-scale conversion from ownership to omni-access is the issue of modification and control. In traditional property regimes only owners have the right to modify or control the use of the property. The right of modification is not transferred in rental, leasing, or licensing agreements. But they are transferred in open source content and tools, which is part of their great attraction in this new realm. The ability and right to improve, personalize, or appropriate what is shared will be a key ingredient in the advance of omni-access. But as the ability to modify is squeezed from classic ownership models (think of those silly shrink-wrap warranties), ownership is degraded.

The trend is clear: access trumps possession. Access is better than ownership.” (http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/01/better_than_own.php)