“Commons refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.” Wikipedia.
Governments mostly regulate the Commons or the ‘public space’. Our governments use tools, like ‘zoning’ and ‘laws’ to enforce proper behavior of the public. Public- sex or drunkenness is often not tolerated and not every street can be turned into a shopping street. If you use the space for commercial purposes you often have to pay precario-taxes to your municipal government, so indirectly to your community. The way we think about the Commons and the way we expect the government to manage the Commons, is dynamic and our thinking and expectations move along with developments of our time.
However I notice a development where we are no longer capable of instructing our governments how to manage the Commons and that doesn’t make me too happy. However, it suits the establishment well, as their intention is often to protect the status quo of the Commons by controlling (or killing) any innovation in order to protect their own position and wealth. Unfortunately this causes our democratic countries to be less and less democratic.
One of these developments for me is the Internet of Things, causing our environment to become more intelligent than we as human beings are. Google is really making progress here. In the next couple of years over 30 to 50 billion (!) devices will be connected to each other, from self-driving cars to self-shopping refrigerators, from intelligent roads to mobile apps, real-time monitoring our health.
Until my insurance company -you know them well, as they issued those super health apps in the cool, free watches- doubles my insurance premium. They warned my three times to change my sleeping habits and saw no result. And according to their almost daily changing ‘terms and conditions’, which I always approve without reading, they are allowed to do so. Or until my self-driving Car, when asked by me on an impulse, refuses to change the route “as I didn’t apply for this on time”. But also the road I am driving on: it knows who I am, where I am going to, what time I have to be there and with whom I am having an appointment. And when that building at my destination checks if I indeed do meet Peter and not Mary, or the other way around. Who else knows this? My employer? The shop owner in that building offering a special deal on the shoes I had been looking for on the Web 2 weeks ago? Or my government, in my case, a Dutch government, who swaps data with the NSA, installs per capita, the most ‘telephone taps’ worldwide and who is ordering more and more drones with facial recognition capabilities?
For governments in even less democratic countries the Internet of Things is an answer to their prayers: everybody can be watched 24/7, as all movements of people are traceable, predictable and thus controllable.
People often state, “I have nothing to hide so I don’t worry about this all”. That may be true, but it is a bit short sighted: one ‘like’ on the Facebook page of the Amsterdam Gay Parade ensures a selection at Poetins Moscow Airport for a long and not so pleasant interruption of your trip by the Russian Immigration officials.
And talking about Facebook: Facebook recently admitted to have manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. These developments remind me of Huxley’s Brave New World, but even more smart and invisible. When I read this book for the first time I found it to be ‘creepy’.
Well, the creeps are here and steal the Commons away from us.
In Society30 the public should own the Commons. So in 2025, when you used the Serendipity Machine to meet me on board the Dragon Space Flyer on my way home from China, and when you start to complain about the disappearance of the Commons, I will simply answer you: “told you so in 2014!”