You are what you own, at least in politics and economics. Ownership is a foundational element of modern society, We invest in, build, buy, sell, exchange ownership rights, In their excellent and highly recommended book MINE! How the hidden rules of ownership control our lives , Michael Heller and James Salzman explore the different definitions of ownership and how determining ownership is critical to addressing the issues we face as individuals, nationally and globally, The book is the best thing I have read this summer.
Chapter 7 of the book – The future of Ownership – and the World discusses the nature of ownership in the digital world, The authors point out that basically, consumers of digitally enabled products and services do not OWN what they buy,
We all may think that when we push the “BUY NOW” button that it is the same as handing over your credit card as the store, According to the book, when asked, 83% of consumers thought that they own digital content just as they own a physical good. Page 262.
However, the authors point out that, “when we buy online, the primitive instinctive power and scope of mine just doesn’t follow.” That instinctive power and scope of mine means that when I ‘buy’ a song or a book or something else digitally related that I own it as if I bought a physical copy, That ownership is enduring and that I am in control of the ‘thing’ that I bought.
Turns out that is not true,
You do not buy a digital item like you buy its physical counterpart, Instead, in most cases, you buy a license from the digital provider, That license is subject to the providers terms and conditions as well as changes in those terms and conditions, such that they can remove things that you previously ‘bought’. The authors point out that iTunes, Kindle, and other licenses work this way – you do not own anything, you can use it so long as the provider provides it.
Consumers, own little in the digital world. If you have every had a digital company ‘delete’ your content or ‘brick’ your device, you know what you really own – a hunk of stuff that requires special recycling.
The authors point out that ‘the gap between what we feel we own and what we actually own is widening.” Ownership in the digital world is becoming ever more concentrated, just like market valuations, revenues, etc,
Democratization, not really more, like Techno-feudalism
The digital world that was supposed to “DEMOCRATIZE” things, is increasingly creating digitally based feudal states, The authors call this Techno-feudalism where consumers are just serfs with no ownership, no rights, no control, no meaningful democracy and no meaningful democratization.
Weaken ownership and you weaken our personal and economic agency
The authors rightly point out that owning less reduces our freedom to exercise our choices about the things we own or control, “Ordinary ownership of physical things automatically gives wide scope for individual choice. … You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission,” before you decide what to do with a book, a picture, etc. Weaker personal ownership concentrates economic power in the people who do own the resources, products, services etc.
techNOlogy blog posts are intended to point out the other side of the digital world we are creating or perhaps having created for us by others, The point is to create a discussion that democratizes our future – rather than making it a mandatory acceptance of terms and conditions that we neither read, understand or were written to be understood.
I recommend buying a hard copy of Mine! and reading it, It is worth your time.
What do you think?
- When you buy a digital product should you be able to own it the same way you would its physical counterpart?
- If ownership has become so concentrated in digital companies, then are you ‘right’ to rebel against that control by sharing passwords to streaming services?
- Should digital product owners, who are selling you a license, be required to maintain your purchases indefinitely? Across different technical platforms? Always updated to be available.