To have and, if possible, to hold is to be and to do, said Jean-Paul Sartre in his essay Being and Nothingness.
“The totality of my possessions reflects the totality of my being,” he wrote in 1949. “I am what I have ... what is mine is myself.”
Researchers have spent hundreds of years trying to define when and how this integrated idea of possessions as something that makes us who we are developed, what it means, its function and whether it is exclusively human. The short answers to these questions are typically evasive, which is probably why the introduction of a new technology that puts this debate to the fore has left us floundering in a social, philosophical and moral morass.
The Web erodes our sense of what can be owned — whether it’s ours or someone else’s creation — because a virtual thing can be “owned” by a vast number of people at the same time. It becomes harder to pinpoint who can claim original rights to the thing and who has access to it. I can have a copy of a photograph, a song, a document or a site on my computer, and a million other people can have the same on theirs. I can exercise ownership rights by giving these assets to whoever I like, and the person who originally created them can’t do a thing about it.
Thus, with no obvious owner, and with a sense that, by virtue of its market abundance, a piece of content’s value is cheap, it can be inferred that it’s psychologically and morally justifiable to take ownership of things online by simply claiming them.
However, is what we’re -witnessing in the marketplace of “the economy of the mind” described by John Perry Barlow, cyberlibertarian, Grateful Dead lyricist and author of A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, a shift in our psychological concept of ownership? Not really: it’s just a matter of context.
There is no indication that theft of physical property is on the rise unless, as observed in the UK riots in August, isolated incidents transform localized social norms to say it’s OK. Contrary to the headlines, downloading stuff online hasn’t made us more likely to steal a DVD from a shop. No, as Brian Sheehan and his colleagues at Syracuse University reported in their paper Motivations for Gratifications of Digital Music Piracy Among College Students, we take control of things that appear —— because of our social environment — to be there for the taking. Just like offline. It doesn’t matter that things that were once physical are now abstractions in the cloud that we tap into when we want them. What has changed is how much stuff we have access to that is — because of the social contracts we operate within online — seemingly free.
The proliferation of digital ephemera has not changed the psychological experience of ownership. Psychological ownership implies an identity transference, often due to some kind of investment. This still happens with digital-only creations and, frankly, is encouraged. Web developers offer extensive libraries of personalization options to appeal to our desire to own.
Take an example from the gaming industry: Massively multiplayer online games -specifically design their products to encourage long-term interactions by giving players “ownership” of their avatars and virtual property. The demise of the game Asheron’s Call 2 at the end of 2005 caused widespread virtual protests and led some traumatized players to real-world therapy sessions because they felt they had lost pieces of themselves at the flip of a switch.
Psychological bruises also appear when a thing is taken from one context without an owner’s permission and put into a new one that doesn’t mesh with the identity of the original owner. Uploading personal photos to social networks immediately divests them from an owner’s portfolio; not only are they now the property of social network developers, but they are assumed — because of how we’ve socially constructed online space — to be public -property. They can be accessed and appropriated by anyone; Facebook photos are liberally snatched from open accounts and splashed across newspapers, as nurse Rebecca Leighton discovered after her arrest and subsequent release without charge over patient deaths last summer. The question of psychological ownership in the virtual world extends beyond the artifacts you create: even your identity is everyone’s property.
The system of social transaction we operate within online is not new, but the Web has expanded it on a massive scale. The creative and legal outcomes are other people’s concern: I’m only interested in how the Web affects the individual and, digital or not, the research demonstrates that the sense of psychological ownership over binary digits is extremely real.
The conflicts are apparent: Perceived personal value remains the same, yet the norms of the space assert a free for all. Is the answer a psychological or social shift in the Web world toward a collaborative model of ownership? Given research that says psychological ownership has evolved because of our physical need for security, food and reproduction, and out of our social need to control, I’d be surprised if such a shift occurred just because of a technology.
Psychologically, we lay claim to things because they represent who we are and we derive pleasure from this form of self-expression. The Web has created a rich transaction space with unknown boundaries. It’s what we cannot control that’s causing the problem.
South China Sea exercises in July by two United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers reminds that Taiwan’s history since mid-1950, and as a free nation, is intertwined with that of the aircraft carrier. Eventually Taiwan will host aircraft carriers, either those built under its democratic government or those imposed on its territory by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). By September 1944, a lack of sufficient carrier airpower and land-based airpower persuaded US Army and Navy leaders to forgo an invasion to wrest Taiwan from Japanese control, thereby sparing Taiwanese considerable wartime destruction. But two
This year, India and Taiwan can look back on 25 years of so-called unofficial ties. This provides an occasion to ponder over how they can deepen collaboration and strengthen their relations. This reflection must be free from excitement and agitation caused by the ongoing China-US great power jostling as well as China’s aggressive actions against many of its neighbors, including India. It must be based on long-term trends in bilateral engagement. To begin with, India and Taiwan, thus far, have had relations constituted by various activities, but what needs to be thought about now is whether they can transform their ties
On Thursday last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a barnstorming speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future.” The speech set out in no uncertain terms the insoluble ideological divide between a totalitarian, communist China and the democratic, free-market values of the US. It was also a full-throated call to arms for all nations of the free world to rally behind the US and defeat China. Pompeo elaborated on a clear distinction between China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in an attempt to recalibrate the
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more