Total access

In The Inevitable Kevin Kelly cites the concept of access, as opposed to ownership, as a key feature of the future. If you can rent anything and everything you’ll ever need for an affordable sum, why would you ever need to own anything? Kelly mentions the Kindle and its library as an example—is owning one hundred thousand books better than having the option to access them whenever and wherever we like? He also points to AirBnB—why aspire to own a holiday home in the Mediterranean when you can rent one when it suits you? His point: technology, and the resulting paradigm shifts it brings about, are enabling collective access to the upside of ownership without the hefty individual downside.

I agree with Kelly and I often think about the concept of access-versus-ownership when I’m spending time in Cornwall, or in France, or in the countryside around my home. Sure, it’d be nice to own a nice little house nestled on a hillside. But it’s also unnecessary—so much of what appeals to me about “country life” doesn’t require me to be a deed-holder of a country home. Solitude, fresh air, little noise pollution, watching the sun rise and set—all this is free. What Kelly is trying to do, I think, in The Inevitable is excavate the fundamental assumptions that our culture is built on. Ownership is one such concept, and it is such a foundation stone that we cannot imagine its opposite—access—taken to the furthest possible degree. I wish to try that now.

Imagine a city-state where ownership is outlawed. Food, shelter and security are provided for. Food and other consumables are purchased as normal, but more slowly perishable items are rented. Living spaces too are rented, but rent itself is administered and managed by a not-for-profit collective. In such an ideal state (meaning improbable, not perfect) how many of the typical human conflicts will evaporate?

Tensions between exploitive owners and vulnerable renters will vanish because there are no owners. The rhetoric concerning competence and ability will be re-focused onto process instead of outcome—what you do and how you do it becomes more important than what this allows you to accumulate and consume. Because external needs are solved by complete and total access for everyone, internal issues can be addressed and preempted. Instead of finding solace in striving for ownership, we will find solace in the opportunities for reflection and betterment that access provides.

It is a grand dream, this vision of total access. But it is a more achievable one than its common counterpart—the want for total ownership. After all, everybody cannot own everything they want. But in the future, perhaps everybody can access everything they feel they need?