Access Over Ownership

Among the barrage of selfies, South Korean pop sensations and videos of women twerking, it is easy to forget just how wonderful an invention the internet is. The ways it has been abused and sabotaged should not detract from the fact that it has the potential to bring about incredible change and influence.

Since its inception the internet has grown at an astonishing rate and now almost three billion people have access to it. Despite the best authoritarian efforts of some states – and I include the US and the UK in here, as well as the likes of China and Turkey – the internet has remained relatively free. My biggest concern is that the internet, and the online community that we are continually shaping, becomes nothing more than a cyber re-creation of our every day lives.

When our modern societies were just beginning to take shape, when communities and peoples were coming together, certain decisions were made that would have far-reaching consequences. The introduction and creation of money, the spread of religion and its influence upon laws, and the decision to implement a system of governance where leaders were possible.

As well as these was the belief in, and the right of, ownership. This principal, though fundamental for us, was unheard of and illogical to many. The testimony of Massasoit, a Native American leader of the Wampanoag, showed confusion at the thought of ownership, and buying and selling. He stated:

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?

Massasoit’s beliefs, though perfectly logical and acceptable, would be a hindrance to the society that needed to be created. After all, if nobody owned the earth how would you sell plots of land? If nobody owned the contents of the earth how would you sell the precious metals found within it? If nobody owned slaves how would you get them to work for you?

And so despite the thoughts of the people such as Massasoit, society expanded under a strict set of rules and principles. It swept aside all that stood before it, as of course it was bound to do. An ideology that promoted the idea that people could own something, would inevitably steal everything from those people who followed an ideology that promoted the idea that ownership did not exist.

Free running animals became fenced off and marked, land became the sole property of certain individuals, and material from the earth belonged only to those who extracted it.

Like our pre-society past, I see the internet as a place of a great freedom, where there are limited restrictions, where creativity prospers, and where cooperation can benefit everyone. It is therefore essential that this new society does not follow the same path as the ones we have already created.

In July of 2011 the founder of Spotify, Daniel Ek, said that ownership was not the future of music, access was, and though he may have only been addressing the topic of music, his statement has wider applications.

It is refreshing and optimistic to read such a statement, as it signals a significant shift in belief about how our societies should be constructed. Rather than repeating the errors of the past and promoting ownership, we now realise that there is more to gain collectively if priority was given to access.

Sites such as Google ask for no subscription fee to search their vast database, Wikipedia provides incredible knowledge at the push of a button, and films, music and images can be shared, uploaded and downloaded from anywhere on the globe.

If society had followed such a path imagine where the human race would be currently. The notion of nationalism would be non-existent as people would realise that just because they were born on a certain land mass it does not give them any more ownership rights than somebody who was not born there. There would be a highly intelligent population as everyone received the opportunity to get university education.

Life saving drugs and treatments would save hundreds of thousands of lives each year because they were made, and manufactured to do just that, not to be sold as a product. Famine would be eradicated because access to food is a fundamental human right, and as no one owns the food that grows from the ground, everyone would share in its abundance.

The internet has given humans a second chance to create a society that is equal, inclusive and accessible by all, to all and for all. It is vital that we take that chance.

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