Access isn’t a feature, it’s market manipulation

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March 6, 2018

Real clouds can be beautiful. But they can also make for a miserable day. I mean, who wakes up and says “Awesome! Its a cloudy day. Lets go have a picnic!”

Data clouds on the other hand, have been marketed as great conveniences, as if these heavenly formations provide nothing more than unlimited benefit, raining love rainbows and cute puppies onto you for all time.

The hidden lie of course is that you’ll also have to PAY for all eternity, either through subscriptions or surrendering massive piles of wealthy data about your habits and preferences in exchange for free services.

These considerations came to me recently while reading the excellent piece by friend and colleague George Howard. The headline says it all:

Canary In A Coal Mine: How Streaming Music Presages The End Of Ownership … Of Everything

By way of full disclosure, I know George via work on a streaming service called Resonate. We’ve built a service on a model that uses “the cloud” for streaming, but still emphasizes ownership and downloads through our #stream2own model. So while I’m inclined to see things through a specific lens, I can’t help but note what is horribly, horribly wrong with what George is describing in his essay:

However, when an expansive view is taken, we can see the way in which people (typically, young) engage with music as an instructive for more than just adjacent media concerns. I’ve written about, for instance, how the notion of the “gig” economy — Uber, Airbnb, Task Rabbit, etc. — with all of its implied freedoms and benefits for those seeking to make a little extra cash via arbitraging surplus (time or space) has a very dark and less-discussed downside; almost exactly the same downside that those musicians, for whom the word “gig” was heretofore associated, have contended with since the beginning of gigs: A life devoid of a safety net, health insurance, retirement planning, etc.

George continues on, further making a connection between the concept of streaming without ownership and other objects, or indeed, places:

As economic disparity continues to accelerate, the idea of this generation never being able to, for instance, own a house becomes an increasingly likely scenario. Instead, a generation — and, perhaps, generations — of renters will emerge.

Similarly, as we move not only to an economic paradigm in which owning a car is challenging and as self-driving/autonomous cars become prominent, the rationale for actually taking possession/title of a car makes little sense to anyone other than someone who — like today’s vinyl collector — just loves cars as objects.

CitiBikes and their variants make the idea of owning your own bike and having to schlepp and give up valuable space in your tiny rented city apartment an irrational decision.

George has very astutely found the center of gravity about the issue of shared ownership in this key phrase — “as economic disparity continues to accelerate.”

I see a phrase like that and immediately want to slam on the brakes.

The reason is fairly simple — gross economic disparity exists, in my mind, for one reason and one reason alone — Corporation Capitalism. Because the mandate for corporations is to return value to shareholders above all other concerns. The workers or customers they serve; the larger environment in which they exist… all are completely secondary to the need to continuously drive profits into the hands of investors. It’s a legal mandate and if a CEO fails to fulfill this responsibility, he will be removed.

Recently I heard this topic being discussed in the context of another streaming service’s recent foray into Wall Street. They were debating whether the company would share their recent windfall with the artists on the service; someone quite astutely pointed out that the only condition in which this could happen is if the company could prove it would be a direct benefit for profitability because they’re now legally required to do so.

So while I think the general idea of capitalism is good — bringing innovative products and services to a market that rewards ingenuity through consumption — the effect of this kind of Corporation Capitalism is disastrous. It has created the worst disparity of wealth to poverty ever seen and is responsible for leading the entire planet to the brink of self-destruction, for there is a VERY direct line between the mandate to return value to shareholders above all other concerns and the externalization of costs that is wrecking the biosphere upon which all life depends. Climate change, the acidification of oceans, poisoning of waterways, mass species extinction, disappearance of natural habits… the list goes on and on.

This deep understanding that the “corporation run amok” is the essential cause of so many ills led me to form Resonate as a cooperative. A business structure wherein the needs of individuals within the community must always be taken into account. Where democracy, not oligarchy, runs the entire operation.

We then combine this notion of collective ownership of the company to the concept of ownership of media itself. We’ve proven the model can be more cost effective for fans and certainly better for artists as well.

And therein lies the challenge we’re posing… the idea that access to “the Cloud” may not having a silver lining after all. Instead, what it really reveals is a very disturbing trend where an entire generation is being forced into a new form of indentured servitude, stripped of the economic capacity to own anything.

If music, as George Howard puts it, is truly the canary in the coalmine, then we will sing the song of warning… it is time to own the platforms, or the platforms will end up owning you.

Originally published on Medium.

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