civilization survive when only the commercial sphere is left as
the primary mediator of human life?
much of the world we know has been bound up in the process of
selling and buying things in the marketplace that we can't imagine
any other way of structuring human affairs. The marketplace is
a pervasive force in our lives: if markets are healthy, we feel
buoyed; if they weaken, we despair. We are taught that acquiring
and accumulating property are integral parts of our earthly sojourn
and that who we are is, at least to some degree, a reflection
of what we own.
the foundation of modern life is beginning to disintegrate. The
market institution which drove humanity to ideological battles,
revolutions and wars is slowly dying out in the wake of a new
constellation of economic realities that is moving society to
rethink the kinds of bond and boundary that will define human
relations in the coming century.
the new era, markets are making way for networks, and ownership
is steadily being replaced by access. Companies and consumers
are beginning to abandon the central reality of modern economic
lifethe market exchange of property between buyers and sellers.
Instead, suppliers hold on to property in the new economy and
lease, rent or charge an admission fee, subscription of membership
dues for its use. The exchange of property between buyers and
sellersthe most important feature of the modern market systemgives
way to access between servers and clients operating in a network
relationship. Many companies no longer sell things to one another
but rather pool and share their collective resources creating
vast supplier-user networks.
the new network economy, both physical and intellectual property
are more likely to be accessed by businesses rather than exchanged.
Ownership of physical capital, once the heart of the industrial
way of life, becomes increasingly marginal to the economic process.
Intellectual capital, on the other hand, is the driving force
of the new era and much coveted.
surprisingly, the new means of organizing economic life brings
with it different ways of concentrating economic power in fewer
corporate hands. In the era of networks, suppliers who amass valuable
intellectual capital are beginning to exercise control over the
conditions and terms by which users secure access to critical
ideas, knowledge and expertise.
changes taking place in the structuring of economic relationships
are part of an even larger transformation occurring in the nature
of the capitalist system. We are making a long-term shift from
industrial to cultural production. Commerce in the future will
involve the marketing of a vast array of cultural experiences
rather than of traditional industrial-based goods and services.
Global travel and tourism, theme cities and parks, destination
entertainment centres, wellness, fashion and cuisine, professional
sports and games, gambling, music, film, television, the virtual
worlds of cyberspace and electronically mediated entertainment
of every kind are fast becoming the centre of a new hyper-capitalism
that trades to access cultural experiences.
metamorphosis from industrial production to cultural capitalism
is being accompanied by an equally significant shift from the
work ethic to the play ethic. The Age of Access is about the commodification
of play namely the marketing of cultural resources including
rituals, the arts, festivals, social movements, spiritual and
fraternal activity, and more. Transnational media companies with
communications networks that span the globe are mining local cultural
resources in every part of the world and repackaging them as cultural
commodities and entertainment.
resources risk over exploitation and depletion at the hands of
commerce just as natural resources did during the Industrial age.
Finding a sustainable way to preserve and enhance the rich cultural
diversity that is the lifeblood of civilization in a global network
economy increasingly based on paid access to commodified cultural
experiences is one of the primary political tasks of the new century.
richest fifth of the world's population now spends almost as much
of its income accessing cultural experiences as on buying manufactured
goods and basic services. We are making the transition into what
economists call an 'experience economy'a world in which
each person's own life becomes, in effect, a commercial market.
Selling access to cultural experiences is testimony to the single-minded
determination of the commercial sphere to make all relations commercial
capitalist journey, which began with the commodification of space
and material, is ending with the commodification of human time
and duration. The selling of culture in the form of paid-for human
activity is quickly leading to a world where pecuniary human relationships
are substituting for traditional social relationships. Imagine
a world where virtually every activity outside the confines of
family relations is a paid-for experience, we increasingly buy
others' time, their regard and affection, their sympathy and attention.
We buy enlightenment and play, grooming and grace and everything
in between. Even the passing of time itself is on the clock. Life
is becoming more and more commodified, and communications, communion
and commerce are becoming indistinguishable.
everyone is embedded in commercial networks of one sort or another,
cultural time wanes, leaving humanity with only commercial bonds
to hold civilization together. This is the crisis of post-modernity.
Can civilization survive where only the commercial sphere is left
as the primary mediator of human life?
age of access is bringing with it a new type of human being. The
young people of the new 'protean' generation are comfortable conducting
business and engaging in social activity in the worlds of electronic
commerce and cyberspace and they adapt easily to the many simulated
worlds that make up the cultural economy. Theirs is a world that
is more theatrical than ideological and more oriented towards
a play ethos than towards a work ethos. For them, access is already
a way of life. People of the twenty-first century are as likely
to perceive themselves as nodes on embedded networks of shared
interests as they are to perceive themselves as autonomous agents
in a Darwinian world of competitive survival. For them, personal
freedom will be about the right to be included in webs of mutual
Just as the printing press altered human consciousness over the
past several hundred years, the computer will likely have a similar
effect on consciousness over the next two centuries. Psychologists
and sociologists are already beginning to note a change taking
place in cognitive development among youngsters in the so-called
‘dotcom' generation. A small but increasing number of young people
who are growing up in front of computer screens and spending much
of their time in chat rooms and simulated environments appear
to be developing what psychologists call ‘multiple personas'
short-lived fragmented frames of consciousness, each used to negotiate
whatever virtual world or network they happen to be in at any
particular moment of time.
Some observers worry that dotcommers may begin to experience reality
as little more than shifting story lines and entertainments and
that they might lack both the deeply anchored socializing experience
and extended attention span necessary to form a coherent frame
of reference for understanding and adapting to the world around
them. Others see the development in a more positive light as a
freeing-up of the human consciousness to be more playful, more
flexible and transient in order to accommodate the fast-moving
and ever-changing realities that people experience.
children, the optimists argue, are growing up in a world of networks
and connectivity in which combative notions of 'mine' and 'thine',
so characteristic of a propertied market economy, are giving way
to a more interdependent and embedded means of perceiving realityone
more co-operative than competitive and more wedded to systems
truth it is far too early to know where the new consciousness
will lead. On the one hand, the commercial forces are both powerful
and seductive and already are bringing large numbers of people
into the new worlds of cultural production. On the other hand,
many young people are using their new-found senses of relatedness
and connectivity to challenge an unbridled commercial ethic and
create new communities of shared interests. Whether the forces
of cultural commerce will ultimately prevail or a renewed cultural
realm is able to strike a balance between the two spheres is open
generation gap is being accompanied by an equally profound economic
and social gap. While one-fifth of the world's population is migrating
to cyberspace and access relationships, the rest of humanity is
still caught up in the world of physical scarcity. For the poor,
life remains a daily struggle for survival and being propertied
is an immediate preoccupation, and for some, only a distant goal.
Their world is far removed from fibre-optic cables, satellite
uplinks, cellular phones, computer screens and cyberspace networks.
Although difficult for many of us to comprehend, more than half
of the human race has never made a phone call.
gap between the possessed and the dispossessed is wide, but the
gap between the connected and the disconnected is even wider.
The world is fast developing into two distinct civilizationsthose
living outside the electronic gates of cyberspace and those living
on the inside, in a second earthly sphere above the terra mater,
suspended in the ether of cyberspace. The migration of human commerce
and a social life to the realm of cyberspace isolates one part
of the human population from the rest in ways never before imaginable.
The separation of humanity into two different spheres of existencethe
so-called digital dividerepresents a defining moment in
history. When one segment of the human population is no longer
able even to communicate with the other in time and space, the
question of access takes on a political import of historic proportions.
shifts from geography to cyberspace, industrial to cultural capitalism,
and ownership to access are going to force a wholesale rethinking
of the social contract. A portion of humanity has already embarked
on this new journey in which the material dematerializes and commodifying
time becomes more important than expropriating space. Access is
becoming a conceptual tool for rethinking our world-view as well
as our economic view, making it the single most powerful metaphor
of the coming age.
is possible to be in favor of progress, freedom of inquiry and
the advancement of consciousness and still be opposed to essential
elements of the prevailing scientific and technological world
view.. We stifle freedom of inquiry and undermine the great
potential of human consciousness only when we steadfastly refuse
to entertain new ways of re-imagining our world"
Rafkin's article is reprinted from Resurgence magazine, Issue
number 207. For a free copy contact, Lynn Batten, Resurgence,
Ford House, Hartland, Devon, EX39 6EE, UK
+ 44 (0) 1237 441293