The End Of Ownership


A recent study suggests that by 2030, the majority of U.S. consumers will not own an automobile—instead, they will use “on demand” self-driving vehicles. The trend will start in the biggest cities, and trickle down to the suburbs and rural areas.

The message is clear: it’s the “end” of ownership.

The same way it’s been the end of ownership in terms of physical media: DVDs, CDs, books, etc. The same way the concept of “home ownership” has been more and more of a pipe-dream.

No, it’s not a Communist fever-dream—the Capitalism is still there. You still have to buy shit. Or rather, spend money.

But you just don’t “own” anything. You own licenses. You rent shit.

It’s my belief that this is the prevailing trend—that we will be “owning” less and less physical possessions. And what we do own will increasingly be more disposable OR things we rent (that which has been possessed over and over again).

The culture of your parents or grand-parents might have been quite different from all this. Especially if they were “coming up” in the post-World War II period of abundance and “huge” American culture—then you had huge houses, tons of “solid state” furniture (made out of blocks of wood and everything), cars, knick-knacks…

Then there are the Boomer generations leading into Generation X: adults who haven’t quite grown out of their childhoods, some who have accumulated EPIC amounts of physical belongings: collectibles, ephemera, nostalgia…

But this is the world, I believe, that is dying. The “push” is for a possessionless society. The “push” is to upload it all to the cloud—all of it, which will one day possibly include even us.

It also fits in nicely with the “Offworlder” paradigm, in which the Earth is kind of left to flood and rot while humans are increasingly taken off the planet to colonize other worlds. It would be an expensive task even to take a handful of humans off into space…most likely, Aunt Clara’s antique tea set or your vintage set of encyclopedias or a honking big dinner table are not going to make the “cut” for what goes.

The “end of ownership” does, obviously, have its disadvantages. As we depend on the cloud to access more and more of our documents, media, and so on, we depend on receiving a decent internet connection. No internet=your shit is gone.

In fact, any of your possessions (including money, which seems to be just about ready to become completely “immaterial”) could be “cut off” at any time in this scenario. You “fuck up” somehow in the eyes of the prevailing governing body? Your access to money, car rental, all items on the cloud, etc. could be revoked. There is no “Dukes of Hazzard” situation for you, no car you can climb in through the windows with and lead the local po-po on a chase. In fact, one would imagine that your a self-driving rented car could have an “override” in place to prevent you from moving at all—perhaps even from opening said doors or even windows.

In such a world, to insist on ownership might seem eccentric…perhaps even sinister and radical.

And yet, this is the world that seems to be coming.