There is a Tosh.0 episode in which a faux-outraged Daniel Tosh decides to burn thousands of books during a mock protest. He takes to the streets, gasoline and matches in hand, and, in the skit’s anti-climactic zenith, he sets his Kindle aflame.
Sure, it was silly gesture, but apropos in the context of today’s techno-cultural landscape.
There was a time, not long ago, when if we wanted immediate access to a large number of movies, we had to own hundreds of DVDs. If we wanted the ability to listen to a particular song on cue, our shelves needed to overflow with compact discs. And if we wanted to look smart, we needed a home library teeming with the oeuvres of all the most notable names in literature.
Today, of course, we needn’t own a single DVD or CD or print book to have access to essentially unlimited options. With the click of a button, we can view any movie ever made, listen to any song ever produced, or read any page that’s ever been printed.
That’s not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with the physical artifacts themselves. It’s just that, like the record albums of yesteryear, we are able to own less in the deliberate pursuit of experiencing more. Much like a hipster’s impressive vinyl collection, a well-curated bookshelf holds significantly more meaning than, say, clinging to a random collection of paperbacks just in case we might read them someday in some nonexistent future. The same can be said for DVDs and CDs … and what’s next? (Let’s not even mention all those forgotten VHS and cassette tapes collecting dust in the basement.)
These relics (movies, music, books) are just the beginning. Imagine all the possibilities we will unveil as we shift from a culture of ownership—a culture obsessed with personally owning every object we can get our hands on—to a culture of access, in which every citizen has unlimited access to virtually everything virtually.
You see, most of us never owned private basketball courts, bowling alleys, or swimming pools as children. And yet we had access to these activities by way of our local communities (YMCA, public schools, parks). And now in today’s culture, access trumps ownership more than ever. With the rapid expansion of our sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, Freecycle) we’re living in a world that’s completely different from our Industrial Age predecessors’.
This is great news. But it doesn’t mean that we must eschew personal ownership. In fact, the opposite is true: with access to the non-physical world at our fingertips, the material things we own become more intentional, more deliberate, more meaningful. It’s a beautiful paradox.
Technology has made this possible. No longer must we hoard. Rather, with fewer physical possessions but greater access to the things that matter most, we can worry less about consuming, more about creating and experiencing.
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