Doug Henwood on 11 Sep 2000 15:02:49 -0000

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Re: <nettime> Jeremy Rifkin: The Age of Access

text warez wrote:

>Digital Restauration
>or: The Age of Access
>We're entering an era in which lifelong customer relationships are the
>ultimate commodities market.
>By Jeremy Rifkin

This is based on Rifkin's awful new book. Here's a review of it I wrote
for Wired, which never saw the light of day (for "space reasons," I was
told). I wrote it just before all the B2B auction networks were announced,
which is a high-tech version of the ultimate arm's-length relationship.

The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism Where All of 
Life Is A Paid-For Experience, by Jeremy Rifkin (Jeremy P. 
Tarcher/Putnam, 320 pp., $24.95)

When you're a futurist, you're rarely called to account. In 1995, Jeremy
Rifkin published The End of Work. Now, some 14 million new American jobs
later, he's out with a new product, The Age of Access.  Its thesis is
pretty straightforward. In the old days, exchange relationships, the
ownership of property, and the accumulation of things were what mattered.
In the New Economy, "markets are making way for networks, and ownership is
steadily being replaced by access."  We don't buy cars, we lease them; we
don't save money, we borrow it; firms don't buy from arm's-length
suppliers anymore, they set up mutually beneficial netwoks. Cultural
production is replacing industrial production, and more and more of "lived
experience" is purchased rather than lived. These points are repeated,
with minor variation, on almost every page, mixed with a relentless piling
up of quotes and anecdotes.

Yes, some of this is true. Most profoundly, there's no doubt that more and
more of human life is ruled by the cash nexus. But as is often the case
with Rifkin - indeed, the whole genre - trends long in the making are
treated as if they're great historical breaks, and surface phenomena taken
as deep truths. (That's why the End of Work turned out to be so wrong.) We
may lease cars instead of buy them, but there are still big hunks of metal
involved. Physical capital may not be as important as it once was -- but
the cyberlife wouldn't be possible without chips, video screens, and fiber
optic cables. In other words, matter still matters. We may borrow and not
save, but a look at the statistics shows that it's only the hundreds of
billions of foreign capital inflows that maket his possible. Should they
ever want some of this money back, the age of access will find itself
unpleasantly blocked. Ownership still matters, too.

The old Rifkin was a worrywart. The new Rifkin -- the one with a
fellowship at Wharton and the ears of corporate managers -- has evolved.
For most of the book, he recites the dazzling transformations of the Age
of Access like a consultant, but without, say, Tom Peters' compelling
shimmer of madness. But at the very end, the cassandra elbows aside the
cheerleader. If things proceed unchecked, the Age of Access -- "where all
of life is a paid-for experience" -- will destroy local cultures
(self-evidently good of course) and banalize human relationships (presumed
to be non-banal now). How can we stop these evils? Rifkin doesn't say. We
just have to. Or the consequences will be profound and far-reaching. --

Doug Henwood
Left Business Observer
Village Station - PO Box 953
New York NY 10014-0704 USA
+1-212-741-9852 voice  +1-212-807-9152 fax
email: <>
web: <>

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