Possession is 9/10ths of the 3-year-old

No concept is more loaded than ownership. Or more absurd. Or harder to establish. Or more important. Just ask Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Stephan Kinsella and Karl Marx.

Kevin Kelly offers a practical angle on the whole topic in Better Than Owning, a long and substantive essay. One sample:

  Our sense of ownership is a funny thing. If you purchase an ebook and download the book’s PDF file to your computer, you’d say you owned it, and expect the rights of ownership. However if you went to a link where a PDF of a book was opened on your screen for free and automatically, you might not feel you owned this book, even if it was copied to your disk. Possession of a copy turns out to be less important in the feeling of ownership than does the price. Free things don’t generate strong feelings of ownership. Gifts do, which we think of as “free,” but our sense of ownership is related to their “replacement costs” – how much they would cost us to buy elsewhere, their market value. If an item has a marketplace cost of zero, we tend not to feel we own it. So as more economic activity gravitates toward the free, less will feel owned. As more is shared, less will act like property.

  Sharing is not very different from renting. We could say that the sharing economy currently emerging from social media is really a renting economy. But we don’t use the word “rent” logically. When we watch a movie on a pay-TV channel we are actually renting it, although we don’t use that word. Yet in fact we use a movie (movies are used by watching them) without owning it; instead we pay for the right to borrow it. That is rent. It doesn’t feel like rent because there is no visible unit to swap.

The problem is that human beings are grabbing animals. Literally. Our senses extend outward through our grabby hands and pushy feet to include everything we operate skillfully. It is not for nothing that many languages (including English) have a possessive case, and linguistics has a large body of work devoted to possession as well. When drivers speak of “my fender” or pilots speak of “my rudder,” they mean it in a way that’s more substantive than mere control.

From our earliest ages, we have clear understandings of what’s mine. Try teaching Marx to a 3-year old. (You’ll do better with Groucho than Karl.)

Anyway, I have lots more thinking around this stuff, but I have to finish a book chapter, get a kid off to school, write some magazine articles, think more about outlining, run a business and clean up a wiki or two. At sixty I still feel like I’m still getting started. (Pulling on a rope to get a two-cycle Briggs & Stratton engine going.)

Hat tip to the Head Lemur.

8 comments

  1. Mike Warot’s avatar

    My daughter Virginia is now 2 1/2, and seems to think that everything belongs to some single person, exclusively. She’s always trying to decide who owns the car, house, binky, etc. She can’t wrap her mind around shared ownership yet.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I remember when our latest kid was about 1.5, and very verbal. He was kind of a vocabulary playback machine, not always matching up nouns and their subjects. (We thought he was color blind for awhile, because he would tell you a color — any color — for everything.) One day he reaches up and says “Pick up My Boy” — because that’s what I often called him. Not sure what that says about possession, but it’s still funny to me.

  3. Mike Warot’s avatar

    A few nights ago… I said “Virginia, Do you need something?”

    She kept saying “I need something”, over and over after that, although she clearly didn’t understand the phrase. 8)

    Fatherhood is a lot of work, but the rewards are starting to flow in.

    Last week circumstances worked out and she got to push her first “shopper in training” shopping cart at the store… kept plowing into me, but I showed her how to steer, and she got much better by the time we were done.

    It was a blast!

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Perhaps my favorite moment with The Kid was around the same time as when the above occurred. He grabbed me by my index finger and pulled me outside into the back yard. “Papa,” he said, “Show me something.”

    This translated as, “Look, I’ve been here for a few hundred days and you’ve been around forever. You know what all this stuff is. Fill me in.”

    They eat the world whole, and leave the chewing for later. It’s amazing to watch, and be part of.

  5. deleted’s avatar

    As a women I heart been hash on bed. By husband or any in the movie Possession (2009) it is about a women that turn in to two man by an accident it is uncommon as they seems but I think In reality it is some thing happening in recent. The tense in the women character is shown well, I can recommended it for any women to understand the sexual inhabits they have to face with. [deleted] shows it up and wonderful picture quality does make me satisfy.

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