Ours and Mine

I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99% of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons. We are all granted this street access via our payment of local taxes. For almost any purpose I can think of, the roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits.

The web is also a social common good. The web is not the same as public roads, which are “owned” by the public, but in terms of public access and use, the web is a type of community good. The good of the web serves me as if I owned it. I can summon it in full, anytime, with the snap of a finger. Libraries share some of these qualities. The content of the books are not public domain, but their displays (the books) grant public access to their knowledge and information, which is in some ways better than owning them.

Kevin Kelly, The Technium, Better than Owning

I continue to be fascinated by the ways in which the economic impasse is eating away at older property forms and creating the possibility for new forms. The textbook industry is a good example. Suddenly, materially privileged professors and administrators are ‘discovering’ that textbooks are expensive.

“We can fix it,” they say, as if they were not, in part, responsible for this inaccessibility. Still, whatever the origins, online textbooks are going to kill off the textbook industry– of course, something equally awful might arise in its place. In any case, this might be one of those silver linings in the dark recession clouds.

These musings and potentials are complicated and unpredictable. The CD may disappear but the LP seems to be back, complete with free digital download of the music so you can play it on your MP3 player as well as your turntable. Some of the musing, however, doesn’t make much sense.

I like the way Kevin Kelly mulls over the things he, personally, does not own but uses daily. These are our collective wealth: the highways, much of the internet, and so on. He’s less persuasive when he linke these forms of ownership and rent-to-own schemes or leasing. These are mostly confidence games.

The root problem, I think, lies in the lack of a critical economics in popular culture. Economics as commonly discussed, is business economics, that is, discussions of how to make capitalism work better. You have to venture fairly far out to the periphery to find anti-capitalist economics.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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