Treasures, Junk and Corporate Serfdom
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Most of what I actually own is garbage. Literally garbage, not just something that I've lost fascination with like the box of comic books that may be worth a hundred bucks someday. I'm talking about the old computers, the particle board desks, the 27" TV, the stacks of Windows software CDs from 10 years ago.
Separating treasures from junk isn't always that difficult. I have a first printing of Larry Niven's Ringworld -- you just don't find that anywhere. There are the framed photos from the Denali from a friends trip or the photo my brother took on our bike tour up the coast of British Columbia. Some of what I keep is treasure because it's irreplaceable and some because it reminds me of times I don't want to forget.
But as I go through life, I find that there are fewer things that I actually own. I lease my car, I rent an office, I subscribe to cloud services, and, especially in this world of electronic information, I license media.
I "buy" books from Amazon for my Kindle, but I don't really own them. I can't wrap it up after I've read it and mail it to a friend, or give it to some stranger at a coffee shop (people actually do that with books printed on paper). I can't get the author to sign it and keep it on display in my living room. It's an ethereal idea floating around in memory on various devices -- it can't be owned.
Bruce Willis is talking about suing Apple because he's discovered that he won't be able to bequeath his music collection to his children. He's spent thousands of dollars only to figure out after the fact that he doesn't actually own the music that he got from iTunes, he just has a perpetual use license. Apple doesn't even own the music, they just have a deals with companies like EMI or Sony.
I think we can safely assume we're entering an era of virtual serfdom. We don't own the things we work for -- the Lords of Commerce own them and we are allowed to view them only through the Graces inherited from the Might of Congress and the Blessing of The Supreme Court (through copyright law and "personhood" of corporations).
To "own" an idea that someone else created is an odd concept in itself. These words are mine, I own them. Even if I publish them on Facebook or Wordpress, they are mine. The things I create are the only things I can say I truly own.
Unless I choose to sell them.
I doubt I'd ever make a good commercial writer because the idea of taking what I've written over a lifetime, selling it to a corporation, and to then have that corporation decide who gets to read my words and who must be punished for reading them outside the rules makes me think of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's an erasure of the real art, like seeing Dr. Suess' Cat In the Hat go from being and evangelist for teaching kids to read to Mike Meyers brain candy.
The stuff I choose to keep is valuable to me not because I own the book or the prints of images, but because I own the context, I own the history of having been on the shore of British Columbia when my brother took that photo, I own the moment I found the copy of the Larry Niven book that had the errors, I own the memories of my dad playing John Hartford -- I may not own the things themselves, or the license to sell those things, but I own the reasons for wanting to have that stuff.
And the Lords of Licensing can't buy that and lock it away in a contract.
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Be sure to see my blog over at Cloudenity. This week's topic:
The Physical Impossibility of Migrating to the Cloud