On October 11, I gave a talk at the "Economies of the Commons 3 Conference: Sustainable Futures for Digital Archives." My remarks were entitled, "The Great Value Shift: From Stocks to Flows, from Property Rights to Commons." The text is below. A video of my talk (29:36 minutes) can be watched here.
This panel is supposed to focus on new forms of value creation in the “audiovisual commons.” I am not an archivist and I’m not even a techie. But I have studied the commons quite a bit. Today I’d like to suggest how the idea of the commons can help us think more clearly how to manage sustainable digital archives in the future. The commons helps us in a number of ways. It gives us fresh philosophical premises, ethical principles, valuable legal models, and a worldview that can help us understand value in some new ways.
A big part of our challenge is simply shedding the comfortable prejudices with which we have been brought up. Let’s face it, we are creatures of the 20th century and its overweening faith in free markets, private property, technology as the path to “progress.” It’s not easy to escape this mentality. Or as John Maynard Keynes put it when trying to introduce his own new ideas to economics: “The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify…into every corner of our minds.”
The ideas behind the commons are actually quite simple and obvious. It’s about access, sharing, fairness, collaboration and long-term sustainability. It’s about protecting and expanding a resource. But living in a culture that celebrates markets, large institutions and copyright has instilled some deep prejudices in us about how the world can and must work. The language of the commons can help us re-think these assumptions by giving us a new vocabulary and perspective. And if we’re ingenious enough, it may help us reinvent many contemporary systems of production and distribution as commons.