Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31 2014: Do we have to own stuff? I’m increasingly of the view that we don’t need to own very much. We need our immediate personal belongings, the tools of our trade, a few mementos (and a few thousand books). But, that is tons of stuff! What can I say! I like to read—and I truly love books. Each book is typically the distillation of years of focused work. Besides, I can—I guess—go electronic. The same thing? I need persuasion.

The model of ownership, in a society organized round mass consumption, is addiction.

Christopher Lasch

She plucked from my lapel the invisible strand of lint (the universal act of woman to proclaim ownership).

O. Henry

A rendering of what Google's car that takes the driver out of the equation could look like in use.

As doubtless you know, Google are building a number of self-driving cars—which simply won’t be drivable by people. There will be no steering-wheel, for instance. You’ll just get in the thing and tell it what to do—or tell it in advance, for that matter. Before long, I suspect, you’ll be able to communicate your destination through thought alone.

Well, self-driving cars are interesting enough in themselves—and clearly they are going to arrive soon—but I was even more interested in Google co-founder, Sergei Brin’s comment when asked about the business model. See NYT May 27 2014 for the full piece by John Markoff.

“When asked directly about what he thought the business might be, Mr. Brin pointed to ending the connection between transportation and vehicle ownership.

“Regardless of Google, I think the right model for most of the world will be not through vehicle ownership,” he said. “These should be provided as services for the most part.”

He added: “The fact is that we have the technology to deliver and it’s likely we’re going to have a lot of partners who might be automakers, parts suppliers, service providers, cities and countries.”

He said that a clear decision had not already been made, and that it might be different for different parts of the world.

I grew up in big houses filled with expensive antique furniture—and we drove a Bentley--but, even then, while quite young, began to realize that there was a substantial downside to owning things. Owning stuff was expensive, it restricted your mobility, it took up time, it was socially divisive, and—in a fairer world—it was unsustainable. There just wouldn’t be enough space for everyone to have a 20 room house and five acres—and it would be environmentally disastrous.

Sorting the possessions of the recently deceased also made me re-think the importance of things. It is sobering to think you can’t even take your body with you after you die. 

Technology has made not owning things much easier. What counts, in a great many cases, is having use of them. As far as I’m concerned—and it took me some time to reach this point—access is the key, not ownership.

Essentially, I am driven by ideas—they are the basis of writing, my passion in life. Do I feel the need to own them? No, I don’t—and, of course, I can’t. I feel the need  to weave them into different forms, and—if I can—to improve them. But, above all, my imperative is to communicate them, and in some small way, to enhance the human condition.

Since our world is an endless font of ideas, I guess that leaves me rich beyond belief.

Am I joking? For preference—always! But, in truth, if you knew the pleasure I get from linking this thought with that insight—hell, you would tax me.

I love it so.




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