In this week's Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner brings his listeners a special treat: an interview with futurist/writer/journalist/pioneer and all-around clever person, Kevin Kelly. Among other things, he was a co-founder of pioneering online community The WELL and the founding executive editor of Wired magazine. He's written for The New York Times, The Economist, Science, Time, and The Wall Street Journal. His most recent book, published in 2016, is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. And he's not talking about specific technologies like autonomous vehicles or blockchain -- he's looking at shifts that are so wide, they're verbs.
Frankly, it's a great interview, and David would encourage you to listen to the whole thing -- but it was so long that to fit in all 12, his producer had to split it in two, with the second six in a bonus podcast. Meanwhile, for those who would like to enjoy this chat in smaller bites (bytes), we at The Fool are happy to oblige.
In this segment, they talk about our shift away from owning and toward accessing, and what it means for society.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 14, 2018.
David Gardner: No. 5 -- we're just going to do two more -- "accessing." You start off early, here, with, "Every year I own less of what I use. Possession is not as important to me as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever." What do you mean by accessing?
Kevin Kelly: This began with music where a lot of the issues of ownership were first brought to fore. In the digital realm, you can make a perfect copy of something for free, basically. It was what the economists called non-rival, meaning that I could make a perfect copy of something and you would still have the copy you had, so you could spread these.
That kind of ability to replicate meant that it was very easy to get something in the digital world and I could very quickly get or find any music that was ever made somewhere. And if that access to it -- if giving it -- could happen instantly anywhere in the world I wanted anytime, it became less and less vital to own it.
In fact, the owning of the music became a liability since I'd have to back it up. I'd have to secure it. I'd have to index it and catalog it. I'd have to upgrade it if it was software. And if I was just reaching for it and getting it anytime I wanted to, I didn't have to do any of those things.
So, there was this movement to not owning music. You subscribe to music. You subscribe to a library and you get whatever music you want anytime. The same thing happened with movies, where you don't buy a movie. You just subscribe to all movies and you'd access the movies when you wanted to. Same thing with software. Books. With Amazon Unlimited the same idea. You don't actually own them. You just borrow them. Anytime you want, you have access to them.
That was the digital realm, and the question was, "Well, that's true for the digital. Maybe you don't have to own things, but what about the physical world?" It turns out that if you can make an instant or rapid delivery of things -- if you could deliver something within 30 minutes or one-half hour -- that was almost like having instant access to it. In other words, if I could deliver to you the state-of-the-art camping equipment within one-half hour of you wanting it, that was probably faster than you could find it in your basement. That became instant access. It made camping equipment a service rather than a noun. The same general drift of things not being finished. It becomes the camping equipment service to you. You have access to it and you're going to get the latest and greatest camping equipment, not the five-year-old stuff you have in your basement.
And so the question was what else in the world can we move from a product that you had to buy to a service that you access. And again, going back to Uber and others is, well, physical things can also be delivered if they can be delivered really rapidly. Or the 3D printing phenomena. I don't believe the idea of people having 3D printers in their homes, but there might be local, neighborhood versions where something may be printed out and you go pick it up locally, or they would deliver it to you within 30 minutes. There is a movement away from the benefits of ownership being more seen as a liability to the benefits of accessing things becoming more important than owning them.
Gardner: You say in the book in that chapter, "The wealthiest and most disruptive organizations today are almost all multisided platforms -- Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook." Platforms, by your definition "offer stuff they do not create." Out of curiosity, Kevin, do you own any of those stocks?
Kelly: Well, the only investments we have are in large index funds... so much of my investments are in Wealthfront. Kind of doing the robo train. I might own it, but I don't know.