The end of the age of ownership?

I've noted a continuing thread through many of our posts on WalletPop. This thread causes me to wonder if we might be evolving out of the age of ownership.

I think the 20th century will be known as the era when possessions drove society. Most Americans started the century with a few acres, a handful of clothes, tools and farming implements. 100 years later, we were building 4,000 square-foot houses that were still too small to contain our possessions.

Thanks in part to the internet, though, we now have more alternatives to the ownership model. For example, I'll never buy another CD, and with services such as Rhapsody I wonder about buying MP3s either. For a monthly fee, I can tap into Rhapsody's inexhaustible supply of music as long as I can connect to the internet.

Once a book-store addict, I've become a hardcore library user. Netflix weaned us away from buying movies, and its online streaming delivery improves on that. On-line gaming will also continue to evolve toward a subscription model, I believe. Google Docs and other online application suites are the primary threat to Microsoft Office's virtual monopoly.

Tracey Coenen's story about renting high-end handbags is another example of internet-based sharing. Groups like Chicago's I-Go allow members to join a car co-op, sharing the use of cars when needed as an alternative to the high cost of ownership.

Of course, there are items that don't lend themselves to sharing (toothbrushes, recliners), but many that do. I only use my lawnmower once a week, my golf clubs twice a year, my kayak two or three times a month, my Sawsall a few times a year. If there were a convenient way to share ownership of such items, it would reduce my clutter and cost, and allow me to live comfortably in a smaller (and cheaper) house.

George Carlin has a great bit about our lust for stuff. Perhaps the 21st century will be the era when owning stuff loses its appeal.

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