Kevin Kelly: omni-access is the new ownership

Paul Raven @ 24-01-2009

Thanks to organisations like Creative Commons, we’ve been hearing a fair bit of rhetoric about goods and services ‘held in common’. The notion of the commons is far from new, but the way the web facilitates sharing has brought it back to a new prominence.

Naysayers against the commons are, er, common enough, but they seem to me to always be arguing from an economic standpoint that can’t conceive of the commons in the way its supporters describe it – for example, they ask ‘who will build and maintain these goods and services?’ Kevin Kelly’s latest essay on the matter covers that question quite neatly:

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. An idea can’t be owned in the way gold can; in fact an idea has little value unless it is shared or used to some extent. Its value paradoxically can increase the less it is owned privately. But if no one owns it, who gains the benefit of that increase in value? In the new regime users will often assume many of the chores that owners once had to do. And so in a way, usage becomes ownership.

Kelly’s big on ‘social’ as an ideal, but given the way the recession is cutting into the soc-net startups, ‘social’ might not be as strong a paradigm in another few years. But then again, if it’s the inevitable matter of social necessity that Kelly describes, perhaps it will… if work remains scarce, will people do more things for the common good as a result, or less?