Somewhere in the early 21st century, we started renting everything (as a service)

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The there are the things you end up owning that you didn't even want (as a service)
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The there are the things you end up owning that you didn't even want (as a service)

If we don't own the future, it'll own us

OVER THE PAST 20 years, we've quietly embraced a revolution - not just in the technology itself, but the very definition of what it means to "own" something.

The move from analogue to digital meant an end to the act of owning a piece of media - whether that be a Best of Slade, Batman Begins on BluRay or that cracked copy of Windows XP you got off your mate's teenage son.

You think only the medium has changed - from physical media to etherial binary. But we've quietly given up our right to own our purchases.

In 2012, Bruce Willis took Apple to court after discovering that he couldn't leave his iTunes library to his children - on his death, the rights are nullified. It's true, as I'm sure you're aware from your detailed study of the iTunes Terms and Conditions screen, or as you probably remember it, the "yes, yes, yes, accept, hurry up, come oooonnnnn" screen.

He lost. The die was cast. Suddenly everything is Everything-as-a-Service.

Software-as-a-Service is a classic example (of course). What it actually means is ‘software you never actually own so you have to keep paying for it over and over again because it won't just go out of date, it will just stop working altogether till you pay again'. As a service.

Digital film services are another classic example. In the past 15 years, I've had films at Samsung Movies (back in the day), Blinkbox, Rakuten, Ultraviolet, TalkTalkTV, Google Play, Sky Store and probably a bunch of others I've forgotten about.

Each time a service closes down, it offers to let you transfer your movies, but if the new service doesn't have the rights to any of your old movie library, that's it, gone. This year, Ultraviolet closed, and my films were transferred to Flixster, which is closing, so my movies were transferred to Google Play. Each time, a few more get lost along the way.

At this rate, by 2026, I estimate that my movie library will consist the director's cut of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, which I swear to god, I never bought, but for some reason is the only movie that has survived the transfer through 47 defunct providers.

Then there's games. When did 'Season Passes' become a thing? And 'micropayments'? And 'loot boxes'? And Amiibos? They're all designed to do the same thing - create new revenue streams from an existing customer base. Can you imagine anything like that being the norm during the 8-bit or 16-bit eras? They'd have laughed you all the way out of Eugene's Lair.

And then there's the smart home. Who'd have thought that the future would mean paying £4 a month for use of your own doorbell? Or that if the company that makes the smart lights goes bust, the lights might stop working. It can happen.

It already has.

I'm not saying the whole n-as-a-service culture is a bad thing. But we need to be careful that this isn't a slippery slope where we slowly erode our ownership of everything that we pay for.

Because the Black Mirror ending to that story is water-as-a-service, and you can work out how that would work for yourselves. (Hint: it's grim). μ

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