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the Age of
The role of property is changing radically. The implications for society are enormous and far-reaching. For the whole of the Modern Age, property and markets have been synonymous. Indeed, the capitalist economy is founded on the very idea of exchanging property in markets. The word market first appeared in the English language in the twelfth century and referred to the physical space set aside for sellers and buyers to exchange goods and livestock. By the late eighteenth century, the term had become separated from any geographic reference and was being used to describe the abstract process of selling and buying things. So much of the world we know has been bound up in the process of selling and buying things in the marketplace that we can't imagine any other way of structuring human affairs. The marketplace is a pervasive force in our lives. We all are deeply affected by its moods and swings. Its well-being becomes a measure of our own. If markets are healthy, we feel buoyed. If they weaken, we despair. The marketplace is our guide and counselor and sometimes the bane of our existence.
Some of a small child's first encounters are likely to be in the marketplace. What youngster hasn't peered into a shop window and asked sheepishly, "How much is that?" From an early age, we learn that virtually everything has a price and everything is for sale. When we're older, we're introduced to the dark side of the market with the warning caveat emptor, "let the buyer beware." We live by the rules of the invisible handof the market and continually hone our lives to the task of buying cheap and selling dear. We are taught that acquiring and accumulating property are integral parts of our earthly sojourn and that who we are is, at least to some degree, a reflection of what we own. Our very notions about the way the world works are based, in large part, on what we have come to regard as the primordial urge to exchange goods with one another and become propertied members of society.
We embrace the marketplace with an unswerving devotion. We sing its praises and admonish its detractors. Who hasn't defended the virtues of property and markets with passionate abandon at one time or another? Ideas about individual freedom, inalienable rights, and the social contract all are figments of this indivisible and essential social convention.
Now the foundation of modern life is beginning to disintegrate. The institution which once drove men to ideological battles, revolutions, and wars is slowly dying out in the wake of a new constellation of economic realities that is moving society to rethink the kinds of bonds and boundaries that will define human relations in the coming century.
In the new era, markets are making way for networks, and ownership is steadily being replaced by access. Companies and consumers are beginning to abandon the central reality of modern economic life—the market exchange of property between sellers and buyers. This doesn't mean property disappears in the coming Age of Access. Quite the contrary. Property continues to exist but is far less likely to be exchanged in markets. Instead, suppliers hold on to property in the new economy and lease, rent, or charge an admission fee, subscription, or membership dues for its short-term use. The exchange of property between sellers and buyers—the most important feature of the modern market system—gives way to short-term access between servers and clients operating in a network relationship. Markets remain but play an increasingly diminished role in human affairs.
In the network economy, both physical and intellectual property are more likely to be accessed by businesses rather than exchanged. Ownership of physical capital, however, once the heart of the industrial way of life, becomes increasingly marginal to the economic process. It is more likely to be regarded by companies as a mere expense of operation rather than an asset, and something to borrow rather than to own. Intellectual capital, on the other hand, is the driving force of the new era, and much coveted. Concepts, ideas, and images—not things—are the real items of value in the new economy. Wealth is no longer vested in physical capital but rather in human imagination and creativity. Intellectual capital, it should be pointed out, is rarely exchanged. Instead, it is closely held by the suppliers and leased or licensed to other parties for their limited use.
Businesses already are well along the way toward the transition from ownership to access. They are selling off their real estate, shrinking their inventories, leasing their equipment, and outsourcing their activities in a life-or-death race to rid themselves of every conceivable kind of physical property. Owning things, lots of things, is considered outdated and out of place in the more ephemeral, fast-paced economy of the new century. In the contemporary commercial world, most everything needed to run the physical business itself is borrowed.
Where the market used to boast sellers and buyers, now the talk is more of suppliers and users. In the network economy, market transactions are giving way to strategic alliances, cosourcing, and gain-sharing agreements. Many companies no longer sell things to one another but rather pool and share their collective resources, creating vast supplier-user networks that comanage each other's businesses.
Not surprising, the new means of organizing economic life brings with it different ways of concentrating economic power in fewer corporate hands. In the era of markets, institutions that amassed physical capital exercised increasing control over the exchange of goods between sellers and buyers. In the era of networks, suppliers who amass valuable intellectual capital are beginning to exercise control over the conditions and terms by which users secure access to critical ideas, knowledge, and expertise.
Commercial success in the access economy depends less on individual market exchanges of goods and more on establishing long-term commercial relationships. A case in point is the changing relationship between goods and the services that accompany them. Whereas for most of the Industrial Age the emphasis was on selling goods and attaching free service warranties to the products as an incentive to buy, now the relationship between goods and services is being reversed. An increasing number of businesses literally give away their products for free in the hopes of entering into long-term service relationships with clients.
Consumers, too, are just beginning to make the shift from ownership to access. While cheap, durable goods will continue to be bought and sold in the market, more costly items like appliances, automobiles, and homes increasingly will be held by suppliers and accessed by consumers in the form of short-term leases, rentals, memberships, and other service arrangements.
It is likely that for a growing number of enterprises and consumers, the very idea of ownership will seem limited, even old-fashioned, twenty-five years from now. Ownership simply is too slow an institution to adjust to the near warp speed of a nanosecond culture. Ownership is based on the idea that possessing a physical asset or piece of property over an extended period of time is valuable. "To have," "to hold," and "to accumulate" are cherished concepts. Now, however, the speed of technological innovation and the dizzying pace of economic activity often make the notion of ownership problematic. In a world of customized production, continuous innovation and upgrades, and ever narrowing product life cycles, everything becomes almost immediately outdated. To have, to hold, and to accumulate in an economy in which change itself is the only constant makes less and less sense.
The Age of Access, then, is governed by a whole new set of business assumptions that are very different from those used to manage a market era. In the new world, markets give way to networks, sellers and buyers are replaced by suppliers and users, and virtually everything is accessed.
The shift from a propertied regime based on the idea of broadly distributed ownership to an access regime based on securing short-term limited use of assets controlled by networks of suppliers changes fundamentally our notions of how economic power is to be exercised in the years ahead. Because our political institutions and laws are steeped in market-based property relations, the shift from ownership to access also portends profound changes in the way we will govern ourselves in the new century. Perhaps even more important, in a world where personal ownership of property has long been regarded as an extension of one's very being and the "measure of a man," its waning significance in commerce suggests a formidable change in the way future generations will perceive of human nature. Indeed, a world structured around access relationships is likely to produce a very different kind of human being.
The changes taking place in the structuring of economic relationships are part of an even larger transformation occurring in the nature of the capitalist system. We are making a long-term shift from industrial production to cultural production. More and more cutting-edge commerce in the future will involve the marketing of a vast array of cultural experiences rather than of just traditional industrial-based goods and services. Global travel and tourism, theme cities and parks, destination entertainment centers, wellness, fashion and cuisine, professional sports and games, gambling, music, film, television, the virtual worlds of cyberspace, and electronically mediated entertainment of every kind are fast becoming the center of a new hypercapitalism that trades in access to cultural experiences.
The metamorphosis from industrial production to cultural capitalism is being accompanied by an equally significant shift from the work ethic to the play ethic. While the industrial era was characterized by the commodification of work, the Age of Access is about, above all else, the commodification of play—namely the marketing of cultural resources including rituals, the arts, festivals, social movements, spiritual and fraternal activity, and civic engagement in the form of paid-for personal entertainment. The struggle between the cultural sphere and the commercial sphere to control both access to and the content of play is one of the defining elements of the coming era.
Transnational media companies with communications networks that span the globe are mining local cultural resources in every part of the world and repackaging them as cultural commodities and entertainments. The top fifth of the world's population now spends almost as much of its income accessing cultural experiences as on buying manufactured goods and basic services. We are making the transition into what economists call an "experience" economy—a world in which each person's own life becomes, in effect, a commercial market. In business circles, the new operative term is the "lifetime value" (LTV) of the customer, the theoretical measure of how much a human being is worth if every moment of his or her life were to be commodified in one form or another in the commercial sphere. In the new era, people purchase their very existence in small commercial segments.
Between Two Worlds
Cultural production is beginning to eclipse physical production in world commerce and trade. The old giants of the Industrial Age—Exxon, General Motors, USX, and Sears—are giving way to the new giants of cultural capitalism—Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, Sony, Seagram, Microsoft, News Corporation, General Electric, Bertelsmann A.G., and PolyGram. These transnational media companies are using the new digital revolution in communications to connect the world and in the process are pulling the cultural sphere inexorably into the commercial sphere, where it is being commodified in the form of customized cultural experiences, mass commercial spectacles, and personal entertainment.
In the Industrial Age, when producing goods was the most important form of economic activity, being propertied was critical to physical survival and success. In the new era, where cultural production is increasingly becoming the dominant form of economic activity, securing access to the many cultural resources and experiences that nurture one's psychological existence becomes just as important as holding on to property.
The transformation from the old economic era to the new has been long in the making. The process started earlier in the twentieth century with the shift in emphasis from manufacturing goods to providing basic services. Now the commercial sphere is making an equally important shift from being service-related to experience-oriented. Cultural production represents the final stage of the capitalist way of life, whose essential mission has always been to bring more and more human activity into the commercial arena. The progression in economic priorities from manufacturing goods to providing basic services to commodifying human relationships and finally to selling access to cultural experiences is testimony to the single-minded determination of the commercial sphere to make all relations economic ones.
The commodification of human culture is bringing with it a fundamental change in the nature of employment. In the Industrial Age, human labor was engaged in the production of goods and the performance of basic services. In the Age of Access, intelligent machines—in the form of software and "wetware"—increasingly replace human labor in the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors. Farms, factories, and many white-collar service industries are quickly becoming automated. More and more physical and mental labor, from menial repetitive tasks to highly conceptual professional work, will be done by thinking machines in the twenty-first century. The cheapest workers in the world likely will be not as cheap as the technology coming online to replace them. By the middle decades of the twenty-first century, the commercial sphere will have the technological wherewithal and organizational capacity to provide goods and basic services for an expanding human population using a fraction of the workforce presently employed. Perhaps as little as 5 percent of the adult population will be needed to manage and operate the traditional industrial sphere by the year 2050. Near-workerless farms, factories, and offices will be the norm in every country. New employment opportunities will exist, for the most part, but in paid cultural work in the commercial arena. As more and more of people's personal lives become paid-for experiences, millions of other people will become employed in the commercial sphere to service cultural needs and desires.
The capitalist journey, which began with the commodification of space and material, is ending with the commodification of human time and duration. The selling of the culture in the form of more and more paid-for human activity is quickly leading to a world where pecuniary kinds of human relationships are substituting for traditional social relationships. Imagine a world where virtually every activity outside the confines of family relations is a paid-for experience, a world in which traditional reciprocal obligations and expectations—mediated by feelings of faith, empathy, and solidarity—are replaced by contractual relations in the form of paid memberships, subscriptions, admission charges, retainers, and fees.
Think for a moment how much of our daily interactions with our fellow human beings already are bound up in strictly commercial relationships. We increasingly buy others' time, their regard and affection, their sympathy and attention. We buy enlightenment and play, grooming and grace, and everything in between—even the passing of time itself is on the clock. Life is becoming more and more commodified, and communications, communion, and commerce are becoming indistinguishable.
Even in a fully mature market economy, remember, commerce is still periodic. Sellers and buyers come together for a brief moment to negotiate a transfer of goods and services, and then they go their separate ways. The rest of their time is free of market considerations and commerce. Cultural time—noncommodified time—still exists. In a hypercapitalist economy, however, steeped in access relationships, virtually all of our time is commodified. For example, when a customer buys a car, the real-time relationship with the dealer is short lived. If a client secures access to the same vehicle in the form of a lease, his relationship with the supplier is continuous and uninterrupted for the duration of the agreement. Suppliers say they prefer "commodifying relationships" with their customers because they provide them with ongoing connections that are renewable and, at least in theory, perpetual. When everyone is embedded in commercial networks of one sort or another and in continuous association by way of paid leases, partnerships, subscriptions, and retainer fees, all time is commercial time. Cultural time wanes, leaving humanity with only commercial bonds to hold civilization together. This is the crisis of postmodernity.
In the 1980s and 1990s, deregulation of government functions and services was the rage. In less than twenty years, the global marketplace successfully absorbed large parts of what formerly was the government sphere—including mass transportation, utilities, and telecommunications—into the commercial realm. Now the economy has turned its attention to the last remaining independent sphere of human activity: the culture itself. Cultural rituals, community events, social gatherings, the arts, sports and games, social movements, and civic engagements all are being encroached upon by the commercial sphere. The great issue at hand in the coming years is whether civilization can survive with a greatly reduced government and cultural sphere and where only the commercial sphere is left as the primary mediator of human life.
In this book, we will examine the many structural changes that are laying the conceptual groundwork and organizational base for the Age of Access. The shift from markets to networks and from ownership to access, the marginalization of physical property and the ascendance of intellectual property, and the increasing commodification of human relationships are slowly leading us out of an era in which the exchange of property is the critical function of the economy and into a new world in which the purchase of lived experiences becomes the consummate commodity.
The transformation from industrial to cultural capitalism already is challenging many of our most basic assumptions about what constitutes human society. Old institutions grounded in property relations, market exchanges, and material accumulation are slowly being uprooted to make room for an era in which culture becomes the most important commercial resource, time and attention become the most valuable possession, and each individual's own life becomes the ultimate market.
The Clash of Culture and Commerce
We are journeying into a new period in which more and more human experience is purchased in the form of access to multifaceted networks in cyberspace. These electronic networks, within which an increasing number of people spend much of their day-to-day experience, are controlled by a few powerful transnational media companies who own the pipelines over which people communicate with one another and who control much of the cultural content that makes up the paid-for experiences of a postmodern world. There is no precedent in history for this kind of overarching control of human communications. Giant media conglomerates and their content providers become the "gatekeepers" who determine the conditions and terms upon which hundreds of millions of human beings secure access to one another in the coming era. It is a new form of global commercial monopoly—one exercised over the lived experiences of a large percentage of the human population on earth. In a world in which access to human culture is increasingly commodified and mediated by global corporations, questions of institutional power and freedom become more salient than ever before.
The absorption of the cultural sphere into the commercial sphere signals a fundamental change in human relationships with troubling consequences for the future of society. From the beginning of human civilization to now, culture has always preceded markets. People create communities, construct elaborate codes of social conduct, reproduce shared meaning and values, and build social trust in the form of social capital. Only when social trust and social exchange are well developed do communities engage in commerce and trade. The point is, the commercial sphere always has been derivative of and dependent on the cultural sphere. That's because culture is the wellspring from which agreed-upon behavioral norms are generated. It is those behavioral norms, in turn, that create a trusting environment within which commerce and trade can take place. When the commercial sphere begins to devour the cultural sphere—as we will explore further in part II—it threatens to destroy the very social foundations that give rise to commercial relations.
Restoring a proper balance between the cultural realm and the commercial realm is likely to be one of the most important challenges of the coming Age of Access. Cultural resources risk overexploitation and depletion at the hands of commerce just as natural resources did during the Industrial Age. Finding a sustainable way to preserve and enhance the rich cultural diversity that is the lifeblood of civilization in a global network economy increasingly based on paid access to commodified cultural experiences is one of the primary political tasks of the new century.
Proteans and Proletarians
The Age of Access also is bringing with it a new type of human being. The young people of the new "protean" generation are far more comfortable conducting business and engaging in social activity in the worlds of electronic commerce and cyberspace, and they adapt easily to the many simulated worlds that make up the cultural economy. Theirs is a world that is more theatrical than ideological and oriented more to a play ethos than to a work ethos. For them, access already is a way of life, and while property is important, being connected is even more important. The people of the twenty-first century are as likely to perceive themselves as nodes embedded in networks of shared interests as they are to perceive themselves as autonomous agents in a Darwinian world of competitive survival. For them, personal freedom has less to do with the right of possession and the ability to exclude others and more to do with the right to be included in webs of mutual relationships. They are the first generation of the Age of Access.
Just as the printing press altered human consciousness over the past several hundred years, the computer will likely have a similar affect on consciousness over the next two centuries. Psychologists and sociologists already are beginning to note a change taking place in cognitive development among youngsters in the so-called "dot-com" generation. A small but increasing number of young people who are growing up in front of computer screens and spending much of their time in chat rooms and simulated environments appear to be developing what psychologists call "multiple personas"—short-lived fragmented frames of consciousness, each used to negotiate whatever virtual world or network they happen to be in at any particular moment of time. Some observers worry that the dot-commers may begin to experience reality as little more than shifting story lines and entertainments and that they might lack both the deeply anchored socializing experience and extended attention span necessary to form a coherent frame of reference for understanding and adapting to the world around them.
Others see the development in a more positive light, as a freeing up of the human consciousness to be more playful, flexible, and even transient in order to accommodate the fast-moving and ever changing realities people experience. Today's children, they argue, are growing up in a world of networks and connectivity in which combative notions of mine and thine, so characteristic of a propertied market economy, are giving way to a more interdependent and embedded means of perceiving reality—one more cooperative than competitive and more wedded to systems thinking and consensus building.
In truth, it's far too early to know where the new consciousness will lead. On the one hand, the commercial forces are both powerful and seductive and already are bringing large numbers of dot-commers into the new worlds of cultural production. On the other hand, many young people are using their newfound senses of relatedness and connectivity to challenge an unbridled commercial ethic and create new communities of shared interests. Whether the forces of cultural commerce ultimately prevail or a renewed cultural realm is able to strike a balance between the two spheres is an open question.
The generation gap is being accompanied by an equally profound economic and social gap. While 1/5 of the world's population is migrating to cyberspace and access relationships, the rest of humanity still is caught up in the world of physical scarcity. For the poor, life remains a daily struggle for survival, and being propertied is an immediate preoccupation—and, for some, only a distant goal. Their world is far removed from fiber-optic cables, satellite uplinks, cellular phones, computer screens, and cyberspace networks. Although difficult for many of us to comprehend, more than half of the human race has never made a phone call.
The gap between the possessed and the dispossessed is wide, but the gap between the connected and the disconnected is even wider. The world is fast developing into two distinct civilizations—those living inside the electronic gates of cyberspace and those living on the outside. The new global digital communications networks, because they are so all-encompassing and comprehensive, have the effect of creating a new and totalizing social space, a second earthly sphere above the terra mater, suspended in the ether of cyberspace. The migration of human commerce and social life to the realm of cyberspace isolates one part of the human population from the rest in ways never before imaginable. The separation of humanity into two different spheres of existence—the so-called digital divide—represents a defining moment in history. When one segment of the human population is no longer able even to communicate with the other in time and space, the question of access takes on a political import of historic proportions. The great divide, in the coming age, is between those whose lives are increasingly taken up in cyberspace and those who will never have access to this powerful new realm of human existence. It is this basic schism that will determine much of the political struggle in the years ahead.
The shifts from geography to cyberspace, industrial to cultural capitalism, and ownership to access are going to force a wholesale rethinking of the social contract. Bear in mind that the modern notion of property as private, exclusive, and exchangeable in the marketplace has been the core institution of the Industrial Age. It has dictated the terms of daily life, informed political discourse, and been used to gauge the status of a human being. Now, after several hundred years of being the dominant organizing paradigm of civilization, the market regime, which brought sellers and buyers together to exchange property, is beginning to deconstruct. On the horizon looms the Age of Access—an era that will bring with it a new way of thinking about commercial relations, political engagement, and how we regard ourselves at the deepest level of human consciousness.
The very thought of leaving markets and the exchange of property behind—of advancing a conceptual change in the structuring of human relationships away from ownership and toward access—is as inconceivable to many people today as the enclosure and privatization of land and labor into property relations must have been more than half a millennium ago. Still, a portion of humanity already has embarked on this new journey. Those people are moving more and more of their affairs from the geographic confines of the marketplace to the temporal realm of cyberspace. In this new world that trades in information and services, in consciousness and lived experience, in which the material gives way to the immaterial and commodifying time becomes more important than expropriating space, the conventional notions of property relations and markets, which came to define the industrial way of life, become increasingly less relevant.
The notion of access and networks, however, is becoming ever important and is beginning to redefine our social dynamics as powerfully as did the idea of property and markets at the dawn of the modern era. Until recently, the word access was heard only occasionally and generally was confined to questions of admittance to physical spaces. In 1990, however, the eighth edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary listed access as a verb for the first time, signaling its new, more expansive use in human discourse. Now, access is one of the most-used terms in social life. When people hear the word access, they are likely to think of openings to whole new worlds of possibilities and opportunities. Access has become the ticket to advancement and personal fulfillment and as powerful as the democratic vision was to earlier generations. It is a highly charged word, full of political significance. Access is, after all, about distinctions and divisions, about who is to be included and who is to be excluded. Access is becoming a potent conceptual tool for rethinking our worldview as well as our economic view, making it the single most powerful metaphor of the coming age.
|Part I The Next Capitalist Frontier|
|Chapter One Entering the Age of Access||3|
|Chapter Two When Markets Give Way to Networks||16|
|Chapter Three The Weightless Economy||30|
|Chapter Four Monopolizing Ideas||56|
|Chapter Five Everything Is a Service||73|
|Chapter Six Commodifying Human Relationships||96|
|Chapter Seven Access as a Way of Life||114|
|Part II Enclosing the Cultural Commons|
|Chapter Eight The New Culture of Capitalism||137|
|Chapter Nine Mining the Cultural Landscape||168|
|Chapter Ten A Postmodern Stage||186|
|Chapter Eleven The Connected and the Disconnected||218|
|Chapter Twelve Toward an Ecology of Culture and|