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It’s Time to Rethink Digital Ownership

Lauren: I do see what you’re saying, and it plays into this rather trippy idea, which is this idea of like, it turns out we own nothing.

Gideon: Mmm.

Lauren: And we don’t, we don’t really own anything. Right? I mean, I think that since the existence of physical goods, there have been different ownership models or structures, different forms of bartering, of loans, of rent to own. I think in the post-industrial era, that probably only increased. We’ve always had some form of subscriptions. You know, even if they weren’t digital subscriptions. So I think what you’re, what you’re picking at, is that existential question. Like, what does it really mean to own something?

Gideon: I, no, that I think I’m not, actually. I think I’m just saying that ownership is always a construct, and, you know, owning a house, owning the land that it’s on, owning any object is a construct. Like money as a construct or corporations as a construct. All of these things are constructs that we’ve built, we’ve created, to make society work, and we can choose to change them. And maybe what I’m saying is it’s not obvious to me that it’s wrong to change the construct of ownership. I think where I come down on the same side as you is that the common thread in all of this is that corporations are getting more power over individuals, and they’re getting to choose for us what can we have, what can we see, what can we change, how our experience is shaped. And that feels uncomfortable. It’s, it’s the power and control part. It’s less even about the concept of ownership itself.

Lauren: Right. It’s that the relationship has changed between “I give you this money for this good, and this is the exchange that’s supposed to happen, and this is the result that is supposed to come from that.” And all of a sudden it’s like, the merchant that you’ve paid is saying, “Actually, the terms have changed.” Yeah. And so within that construct, an imbalance has been introduced.

Gideon: Right.

Lauren: So the internet has created, you know, this incredible era of production and distribution and dissemination of goods and digital goods. But now the consumer is at the receiving end of it, saying, “Well, hey, like, what just happened to that thing I paid for?”

Gideon: Right. It’s such an interesting example of the flip sides of technology, right? The internet has this so-called democratizing effect in many ways and gives people access to things they didn’t have before, and tools they didn’t have before. And at the same time, it’s also a means of taking away ownership, and ownership as a form of independence. I think maybe for me, that’s the, the crucial thing here is that it’s about autonomy and the right to make choices for yourself.

Lauren: Hmm.

Gideon: One of the things that’s interesting about this topic is, what are the politics of right to repair and of digital ownership? Because I think of them as essentially progressive issues in this country, but there’s no reason why they should be. Right? Ownership—

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