You Will Own Nothing...#012
“You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy. What you want you’ll rent, and it’ll be delivered by drone.” Source
A few years ago my parents were cleaning out their attic for a move and set aside bins of stuff that my brothers and I had growing up. In my bin was my old Super Nintendo (SNES) along with a ton of games. Opening that bin a few months later was like the Christmas morning I got the SNES all over again. After pulling out the system I noticed it didn’t handle the move well. In fact, there was a lot of debris from the ceiling and roof in the cartridge port. My heart sank. I cleaned it out the best I could and grabbed my original Super Mario RPG cartridge (one of my all-time favorite games) and booted it up to a blue screen. I forgot! I pulled out the cartridge, blew into it, and then put it back in, and wa-la! it worked!
I still have that SNES today and have it hooked up to a TV in my *man-cave*. It’s such an incredible feeling to be able to go back to the games I grew up with. Nostalgia aside, another reason I love going back to these games is that I view them as revisiting art I appreciated as a kid. Because video games are art. Back then, dozens of people did everything they possibly knew how to create these games. Graphic artists, programmers, and musicians worked tirelessly on fitting what was in their heads into a 16-bit cartridge. Whenever I boot up Super Mario RPG I’m going back to enjoy a game I love along with remembering the feelings that 6th grade Matt had back in 1996 when it came out, but I’m also enjoying it as a form of art and music that holds up to this day. I own this art, but what happens when my SNES or my copy of Super Mario RPG finally bites the dust after almost 30 years? How do I revisit the art and music I own after age, wear/tear, and corrosion finally take it out??
You Will Own Nothing
A while ago I saw a video on Facebook claiming that the World Economic Forum (WFO) had made it a stated goal that “you will own nothing and be happy about it” by 2030. In my more conservative circles, the video blew up. I understood the fear expressed clearly. How could the WFO advocate against private ownership and property? Are they seriously advocating for state or corporate control (I repeat myself)? That explicitly goes against their mission. I looked into it a bit more and, of course, the video was only partially true. The WFO had not made it a stated goal for their organization, so the video was correctly fact-checked by multiple news outlets (here & here).
However, as is often the case, the fact-checkers focused on the specific claim of "goals” but did not record that the WFO had floated the idea on multiple occasions as an “interesting thought experiment.” Which was one of the main points of the video I had seen. It’s quite problematic that *fact-checkers* did not address this, but labeled the video as false.
The original idea of “you will own nothing” came from an article by Ida Auken back in 2016 and, in my opinion, is scarily accurate to read now almost 2 years into the pandemic.
It might seem odd to you, but it makes perfect sense for us in this city. Everything you considered a product, has now become a service. We have access to transportation, accommodation, food and all the things we need in our daily lives. One by one all these things became free, so it ended up not making sense for us to own much.
The line “everything you considered a product, has now become a service” gave me a borderline existential crisis. At that moment all of my music I streamed from Spotify, I had not bought a Blue-Ray for years because I had Netflix, and after moving again I signed up for Kindle Unlimited for books because lugging my library around was exhausting. I had moved from having physical copies to monthly services without even recognizing it. I was horrified.
When It Ends?
Last week Nintendo announced their long-awaited update to their online services (NSO) and from what I am seeing it did not go well. Their existing plan of 19.99 individual/39.99 for families per year was well received and gave you a good value for online play, online features in games, and access to a healthy library of retro NES and Super NES games. Nintendo’s new plan is another option and increases the cost to 49.99 individual/79.99 for families, gives you access to Sega Genesis and N64 games, and a DLC for the current version of Animal Crossing. If one plays the latter (which relies heavily on the NSO) the DLC is $25, so paying for online services as an individual might not be a bad deal, but the DLC is the only thing you actually own. You’re renting or leasing these games for as long as Nintendo keeps them on the online service. For some, that’s completely fine because it’s like a digital Blockbuster store (RIP), and they don’t have a desire to own these games. That’s great! But when it ends, what happens to that game? How do you go back to it? If I want to own it where I do go to get it?
I’ve faced this fear with my SNES and my beloved Super Mario RPG since I pulled the game out of the box my parents set aside. When these games and systems inevitably stop working due to decay, how do I go back to them? Especially with the economic model moving away from ownership to services. When the game dies, if I want to play it again I’ll either have to find a Rom for it (pretty murky legally) or pay to buy a copy on sites like eBay or Craigslist because Nintendo does not sell it directly anymore. But that’s the rub - they could.
Unlike almost every other service I’ve mentioned, Nintendo does not give you the option on the Switch to purchase the games you play through their online service. They did before on the Wii-U but they’re not anymore. The product has exclusively become a service. And it feels like this is the path forward in the future and since Nintendo is the granddaddy of videos games they could once again set the standard for all companies to follow. You will own nothing, but be happy to pay for access.
Auken mentioned his ideas were just a thought experiment, but as the experiment moves from the lab to the real world the repercussions are becoming increasingly problematic. My wife and I purchased an original Leonid Afremov painting for our living room and there’s something special about being able to see the ridges of the paint. It doesn’t feel like a copy, or a Google image, or a reprint bought in a store. It feels human.
We will own this art until the inevitably of death, destruction, or tragedy takes it away from us. We would not rent or lease this art. We would not buy an NFT of it. There’s no service we would pay to hang it temporarily. And, while it may seem like a bit of a stretch, I view many of my games the same way except they have the added value of nostalgia built-in.
And while you might not be able to resonate with videos games, go ahead and reread this newsletter and substitute whatever piece of art, music, or product you enjoy and ask if you’d be willing to move from ownership to subscription to enjoy it?
I think there’s a place for subscription services; I wouldn’t toss them. However, going only subscription as the Nintendo model seems to be testing for the masses seems like an early version of the “you will own nothing” model and I do not like where that could be taking us.