David Weinberger at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society raises an important issue in a recent discussion at Harvard using a metaphor I hadn’t thought of before:
Put aside for the moment question of what is legally ours on the Net. Instead, consider what’s ours in a less explicit and less rigorous sense. Google feels like ours (even though it legally belongs to its shareholders) while Microsoft’s new search site feels like theirs. Weblogs feel like their ours while online columns do not. The Mac feels like it’s ours while Dell computers do not. Craigslist feels like ours while newspaper classified ads and Monster.com feel like theirs. In fact, many of us feel and act as if downloaded mp3s were ours.
Is this sense of “ours” an illusion? Is it a temporary artifact that will vanish in months or years? What makes something that’s not legally ours still feel that way, on the Web or off? And does this provide a way of figuring out why many of us feel so passionately about the load of bits we call the Net?
Well of course not everyone agrees on what technology they consider ‘theirs’ – I don’t feel a big psychological difference between Google and MSN search for example. But I think David W is on to something here. The Berkman folks will likely approach this from a legal perspective (should laws be written from the POV of how people have come to feel about a given tech?) while my interest is more cultural – (what makes people invest a tech with personal significance?)