Imagine No Possessions…

Can you remember the last time you bought a movie? I’m talking about a physical copy of a DVD, or even a VHS tape — a tangible artifact that you can hold in your hand and proclaim, “this is mine!” Personally, I can’t remember, but I’d guess it’s been more than 10 years.

I used to collect my favorite films. First on VHS, and later on DVD. I wanted to own the movies that meant a lot to me. I wanted to have the ability to take one out, slip it into the VCR or DVD player, and watch it whenever I chose. My movie library also said something about me as a person — about my taste in cinema. My movies were proudly displayed like badges of honor.

I don’t have shelves full of movies anymore. I have a Netflix queue, and movies that I can access via the iTunes store (when the network is up).

How about the last time you bought a CD (cassette? album?). Again, it’s been quite a while since I actually plopped down $10-$15 dollars for the pleasure of owning a physical copy of an album. There was a time when I’d save up my money in anticipation of an album release by one of my favorite bands. On release day I’d race to the record store, buy the CD, get in the car, tear off the shrink-wrap, and listen to that disc over, and over. And over… I knew every lyric. Every note.

I got rid of my old CDs. Now I pay a monthly fee to stream practically any album by any musician ever made (as long as the server is working).

The same can be said of books. I enjoy reading, and have bought dozens of books over the past few years. You can see them in my digital iBooks library on my iPad.

It’s not just media that we no longer own. I don’t own my smartphone; I pay a monthly fee to lease a device along with my cellular data plan. Cars arrive on-demand to take us where we need to go. We can pay for temporary access to clothing, lodging, even relationships. And this trend of the on-demand economy is only beginning to gain traction.

“The things you own end up owning you.”

— Fight Club

All in all, it’s not really a bad thing to have fewer possessions. Tyler Durden and John Lennon would certainly approve. I do wonder though how they’d feel about the fact that we’re voluntarily relinquishing ownership of our belongings in favor of paying multi-billion dollar corporations for the privilege of accessing our stuff on their terms.



Digital product design & strategy expert. Team builder. Stoic. Keynote speaker. Co-Author of The Designer’s Guide to Product Vision

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