|Our sense of ownership is a funny thing. If you purchase an ebook and download the book’s PDF file to your computer, you’d say you owned it, and expect the rights of ownership. However if you went to a link where a PDF of a book was opened on your screen for free and automatically, you might not feel you owned this book, even if it was copied to your disk. Possession of a copy turns out to be less important in the feeling of ownership than does the price. Free things don’t generate strong feelings of ownership. Gifts do, which we think of as “free,” but our sense of ownership is related to their “replacement costs” – how much they would cost us to buy elsewhere, their market value. If an item has a marketplace cost of zero, we tend not to feel we own it. So as more economic activity gravitates toward the free, less will feel owned. As more is shared, less will act like property.|
|Sharing is not very different from renting. We could say that the sharing economy currently emerging from social media is really a renting economy. But we don’t use the word “rent” logically. When we watch a movie on a pay-TV channel we are actually renting it, although we don’t use that word. Yet in fact we use a movie (movies are used by watching them) without owning it; instead we pay for the right to borrow it. That is rent. It doesn’t feel like rent because there is no visible unit to swap.|
The problem is that human beings are grabbing animals. Literally. Our senses extend outward through our grabby hands and pushy feet to include everything we operate skillfully. It is not for nothing that many languages (including English) have a possessive case, and linguistics has a large body of work devoted to possession as well. When drivers speak of “my fender” or pilots speak of “my rudder,” they mean it in a way that’s more substantive than mere control.
From our earliest ages, we have clear understandings of what’s mine. Try teaching Marx to a 3-year old. (You’ll do better with Groucho than Karl.)
Anyway, I have lots more thinking around this stuff, but I have to finish a book chapter, get a kid off to school, write some magazine articles, think more about outlining, run a business and clean up a wiki or two. At sixty I still feel like I’m still getting started. (Pulling on a rope to get a two-cycle Briggs & Stratton engine going.)
Hat tip to the Head Lemur.