Monday, February 23, 2015

The End of Things

When Thomas Jefferson first penned The Declaration of Independence, the inalienable rights in the catchphrase were life, liberty and property. He changed “property” to “pursuit of happiness,” probably because the idea of a right to property sounded too Socialist. Smart guy that he was, he was already anticipating a presidential run 13 years before the Constitution created that office.

But property has long been the defining measure of success. Citizenship and voting rights have often been tied to land ownership.

And this is why it’s so disruptive that things … objects, are now obsolete. It started a while ago with e-books and music downloads. We were weaned off disks and CDs for software, instead just downloading it (and the twice-daily updates) from the Internet. But even that rug was pulled out. Now the software just lives on the Web. And more and more, we don’t buy software or books or music outright. We subscribe.

Even cars and hotels are being virtualized by Uber and Airbnb. Clothing next?

The pattern is that we begin to think of things not as objects, but as experiences we can have. Books are not bound bunches of pages, but just texts that we can read in various forms. Photos and music are sets of samples of digital information. Cars become trips. Homes become stays.

And humans? We are but thinking machines.

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