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Things Aren’t What They Used to Be: Is Ownership Passé?
You spend a lot of time talking about sharing and alternatives to ownership when your child’s in preschool. In the morning story circle you don’t want to be an avaricious, cookie-hoarding Vanderbilt. It seems morally arbitrary, that we spend so much time instilling an ethic of sharing that we’ll soon allow to be weedily overgrown by other priorities. Children start kindergarten as communitarians, and leave high school as robber barons.
The “ownership society” prevailed over Communism in the Cold War. Nevertheless, sharing and alternatives to ownership are wandering in through the back door of history today—spontaneously, and renamed. Although it doesn’t have much (anything) to do with the overthrow of capitalism, alternatives to private ownership are undergoing an intellectual second virginity. It works this way sometimes: When an idea is declared dead historically, it’s free to be resurrected as a good idea.
The uber-luxury, uber-rich ski resort communities of Colorado are places that Marx would have been ashamed to visit and its residents would have been ashamed to host him. All the same, they’re places with improvised collectives, and an alternative to conventional ownership. They don’t call it a collective, of course. They call it “fractional ownership.” It’s ownership of one thing, shared by several. Unlike a rental or timeshare, the fractional owner of property, whether it be a sailboat (with a “fractional sail”), penthouse, ski lodge in Vail, or a luxury Paris apartment, does own a bit of the property. In this plush revolution of communalism, owners can sell their slice and bequeath it to their heirs. There are fractional developments throughout the world (250 in North America) as well as fractional ownerships of individual properties.
“Co-housing” is a similar hybrid of proprietary communalism. There are 90 co-housing communities in the U.S., and over 120 in planning and exploration. With co-housing, people own their own homes, but share some meals, resources, and decision-making with other members of the community and maintain public spaces.
It’s not a rejection of ownership, but ownership lite.
Urbanist Richard Florida astutely sees (home) ownership as out of step with the not so new economy. It might have made sense 60 years ago, when workers stayed put near the corporate office or factory where they could conceivably work for a lifetime. And, to be fair, home ownership still have a vague but compelling mystique. After my husband and I bought our first house, so many feelings and satisfactions conveyed in the word owner—solidity, stability, and adulthood. Mostly, ownership made it easier to imagine long-term, to move characters on and off the ever-fixed mise en scene of life that the house became. Maybe you need one fixed point of orientation in life, to manage the feat of long-term fantasy. When you’re a young renter, and all facets of your life are a mobile in complex motion, the intergenerational imagination is harder to conjure, or trust.
But that fantasy of ownership may be growing obsolete, or getting replaced with another. Florida endorses the rehabilitation of renting as a more compatible housing mode with the 21st-century economy. “Mobility and flexibility are key principles of the modern economy,” he writes. “Home ownership limits both.”
Houses are only the largest example of a subtle but pervasive revision of ownership. What we own today might be the milder, more figurative commodity of experiences rather than things. For example, vacation timeshares are a flourishing business, where you get access each year to a few weeks’ worth of a vacation home. Timeshare businesses speak of “Vacation Ownership.” You don’t own the place--you own the vacation. This preserves the prestige of ownership, but with an experience, not an object.
So does the “leased luxury goods” business in bags, jewelry and watches, which promises that “instead of owning an asset, you can just buy the experience.” Essentially, they envision object-less ownership. Jennifer Hyman is the CEO of Rent the Runway, which she thinks of as a community, not a business. It lets women rent high-end designer gowns. Rent the Runway gives “access” to “your dream closet,” thereby giving the client (not customer) a certain proprietary boast of having a virtual, private wardrobe at their disposal, even if the closet isn’t actually in their home, or actually theirs. Women can “experiment without the anxiety of investing.” Note that ownership has devolved in this description from a privilege to an anxiety.
Ownership might be getting replaced with membership, or revised to mean membership. In the not-distant future, maybe we’ll belong to dozens of “exchange communities” or bartering networks of varying levels of exclusivity. The largest barter network in the Maryland-DC area, Barter Systems Inc., has over 1400 members. Members can barter a mailing list management service for stress management or maid services.
William McDonough is a visionary leader in “eco-effective design.” He sees manufactured products that we own as “essentially, packaging for services,” and valuable for the service, not the object. “What if we thought of the auto industry not simply as a maker of cars but as a provider of mobility?” he brilliantly questions. As a “mobility provider,” rather than a car maker, a manufacturer might offer customers “access to many different kinds of cars, rather than selling them a car,” McDonough imagines. “Why own and maintain three cars when you could use the service of a big, spacious vehicle for family trips, a sports car for a weekend date, or a public community car to transport your children? In each case you’d be provided the service of mobility by an automaker that owned and reused the vehicles’ valuable materials and utilized them effectively...”
There’s something compellingly carefree and unencumbered—even luxurious?--about this vision. ZipCar and bike network members swipe a card, pick up their cars or bikes when needed, and then drop them off later. You’re not burdened with dipsticks or mechanical innards, insurance policies, fumbling for the cab fare, vulture-circling an imminent parking spot, or caught with half-eaten sandwiches in your car. Instead it’s like a British country estate, serviced by mechanics and chauffeurs who, like ZipCar, magically produce a vehicle. With membership and electronic billing, actual cash needn’t exchange hands. Under the circumstances, what would ownership actually add by way of prestige?
In the same vein, Netflix isn’t a video rental business but an entertainment provider service. Netflix intuited that the service it offered wasn’t the video as a tangible product but the experience. Netflix doesn’t provide discrete rentals of discrete videos for a discrete amount of time. Instead, for a membership fee, you get unlimited access to what you want, when you want it—and you’re liberated from the ungainly anchor of ownership.
Some of our most prized status objects today are technological. They’re valued for their timeliness, not their timelessness. The very newest, latest gadget is the most prized and sought. That’s in contrast to earlier decades, when the most prized possessions--an exceptional piece of furniture, jewelry, silver, or a fine leather bag--tended to appreciate in value.
The accelerated metabolism of obsolescence for our most prestige-laden gadgets seriously diminishes the appeal of ownership as well.
Why own, when we’ll get Blu-Rayed, eventually. The fragile images of my family’s life together, first seared onto Super-8 home movie film in the 1950s and 1960s, have since wandered almost nomadically, and at great expense, from the actual Super-8 to a VCR tape, from a VCR tape to a DVD, from transparent slides to digital images on my desktop. In a few years, the images will surely embark on a journey again to find temporary refuge on the new, new thing.
Open-source coding is the collective authorship and possession of computer code, the DNA of the digital age, in self-organized peer-to-peer communities. Open source codes such as Linux are not owned or proprietary. Any programmer can contribute, fix a bug, and share their programming solution with the community. It’s free, you don’t buy anything, and it’s always moving, changing, and evolving. It’s more like a perpetual draft of a thing, and therefore never a finished—ownable—product. Yale Law School professor and visionary Yochai Benkler coined the term “commons-based peer production” to describe collaborative, open-sourced coding. Benkler thinks in terms of “peer property,” not private ownership. Peer property licenses such as Creative Commons recognize individual authorship, but without exclusive property rights.
Commerce still happens. We do buy reproductions of music, books, movies and creative products in the digital economy, but we don’t often hold and possess them. When CDs were new and wondrous, a friend in graduate school took literally the hype that they were indestructible and that you could do anything to them.
“What’s this coaster?” I asked him one night as I set a beer down on it.
“That’s a CD,” he intoned, reverentially.
With iTunes, I buy a song and then own access to the experience of listening to it. I don’t really possess the music, as I could a CD that I cavalierly used as a coaster. Ownership no longer implies control at will, but access at will.
It’s not that we’ve not bought something, and it’s not that someone, somewhere, hasn’t made a profit. We have the soul and economy of commerce and capitalism without possession. “Consumers want to enjoy products without owning them,” a 2010 Korean Times article observes. This points to the emergence of a new breed: a world of “owner-less consumers.”
We’re not entirely Matrix yet. Things—actual, tactile things—still do get made by industrial means of production, although increasingly not in the United States, as manufacturing migrates eastward. But even new ideas about the old industrial processes of manufacturing and design are beginning to revise the biography of a thing.
The most basic assumption we make about things we own is that they stay what they are. If you’re born a chair you die a chair. When we own a chair and tire of it, we “kill” it off, still as a chair, by throwing it out, selling it, or donating it. Things owned don’t change morphology and purpose.
Re-purposing and reinvention call into question even this prerequisite of possession. Like the open-source code that is never a finished product but always a draft, a thing that we make is plausibly never finished with its evolution. Re-purposing extends the biography of a thing beyond the time of our ownership (and, at the other end, the rehabilitative marketing ploy of “pre-owned” luxury goods backdates the biography to before our ownership). “Cradle to Cradle” certification sets new standards for manufacturing in eco-friendly, sustainable ways. The standards aspire to a zero waste manufacturing process where all elements, and the final goods, are used, re-used, and re-purposed, such that there is no “waste” in the process.
Cradle to Cradle evaluates among other criteria whether companies are designing products for “future life cycles,” and reincarnations. Do we still own a chair when it becomes a box in its repurposed future life? It would sound, and be, absurd to think so. The thing has metamorphosed into another, as if it has a soul that survives its corporeal forms, and so our ownership was incomplete, transient and conditional—something we had, for the time being, in one of the possession’s lives.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.
- The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
- The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
- Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Fischer et al.<p>A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."</p>
Fischer et al.<p>The results, published Friday in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.</p><p>The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.</p>
Fischer et al.<p>Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">prior tests</a>. For example, a study from June published in <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Physics of Fluid</a> found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">others have</a>, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.</p><p>The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."</p>
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21fc2dc85391501eec28c4bf46d7db15"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AXL0q9jNZGU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Williams is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.seenandheard.org/" target="_blank">Seen and Heard</a>, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/child-sex-trafficking" target="_self">wrote about her work</a> in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.</p><p>Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups. </p><p>The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.</p><p>When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?" </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global." </p>
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images<p>As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.</p><p>One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem. </p><p>To source better data, Williams turns to the <a href="https://www.missingkids.org/" target="_blank">National Center for Missing and Exploited Children</a> (NCMEC) and the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ncic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Crime Information Center</a> (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher <em>and</em> a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous." </p><p>Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism. </p><p>Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference. </p><p><strong>To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)</strong></p><ul><li>Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://savinginnocence.org/" target="_blank">Saving Innocence</a>, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, <a href="http://gozoe.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Zoe</a>, a reputable faith-based organization, and <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="https://withtwowings.org/" target="_blank">Two Wings</a>, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/" target="_blank">Nola Brantley</a> offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://instagram.com/imrebeccabender" target="_blank">Rebecca Bender</a> is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation</li><li>The <a href="https://www.instagram.com/missingkids/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Center</a> of Missing and Exploited Children</li><li>Operation <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ourrescue/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Underground Railroad </a></li><li><a href="https://www.instagram.com/defendinnocence/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Defend Innocence</a> offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe</li></ul><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>