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[Book Review] Age of Access (1), Jeremy Rifkin


The Age of Access, published exactly when the 21st century began, is a monumental book that marks the transition from a physical economy to a shared economy. With surprising accuracy, the author Jeremy Rifkin predicts how our economic systems will morph into a form that has never been seen before.

I love everything but the design of the front cover....


Recently, I’ve just realized that there isn’t much time left for me until the next WSDC audition. Thus, on a very rare occasion, I decided to pick up a dusty book from my vast bookshelf and read it until the last page.

My first choice was the book The Age of Access, a book I had bought when I was quite into economics in middle school, but sadly felt lazy to read it until the end. I’ve read now one thirds of the book, but I will regardless write a book review on what I’ve read until now. Because the book is very “dense” with information, I was afraid that I might lose some thoughts or important knowledge at the beginning of the book when I reach the end.

So into the main talk: “Age of Access.” It is definitely not an intuitive or self-explanatory title. But after you read the book, you will know how the title so surprisingly well encapsulates the entire content. The first couple of chapters are mostly about how modern economics have moved out of a phase that puts emphasis on sheer physical capital. (Spoiler alert from now on)

While, in the past, the success of a company depended in an how much it owned, we now transit into an age where success depends on ideas and leasing.

The latter refers to the literal meaning--borrowing a good to one that needs it. Developments in technology have made competition fiercer and innovation much faster. As a result, the market is much more transient, and requires flexibility from corporations. Think about Moore’s law that posits new products to come out at a period that literally halves every time. Leasing allowed corporations to adapt to these changing circumstances, and we now live in a world with almost half of the entire US economy is leased goods, and the number for South korea being one thirds. Leasing is not only limited to physical goods; intellectual property and knowledge are also included. Take the example of franchises, where individuals are “leasing” the know-how and brand name of a successful corporation by paying their labor and assets. Such chains are an entirely new form of economic structure that gave rise after the industrial revolution. A parallel that I saw from this example were guilds in the middle ages. Similarities of the nature of the exchange made franchises seem like a neo-guild to me.

Another example of this changing economy is seed with termination technology by agriculture companies; in essence, it is “leasing” the knowledge of the corporations until the seeds germinate.

Another aspect of this transition is the purchase of experiences instead of physical goods. We live in a glut of physical goods; as Maslow’s hierarchical needs, human beings would thus naturally pursue the use of experiences. An implication of this transition, according to Rifkin, is how corporations could affect culture and eventually our thoughts. This could result in the domination of local small cultures by profitable cultures.

What surprised me the most is the frighteningly accurate predictions of Rifkin. Leasing and AirBnB. Sharing and Uber. Purchase of experiences and youtube personal channels. Notice the similarity? Yes, our reality is approaching Rifkin’s predictions, which was published even before the first iPhone came out, with surprisingly high accuracy.

However, until this point, I think Rifkin’s estimations did not take into consideration human reactions; that is, it is true that ideas have been monopolized by megacorporations such as Amazon, but it is also true that the developers in Silicon valley that saw a moral problem distributed opensources. Also, I am not sure whether the prediction of physical property being more transient would apply to all physical assets, as essential but limited goods like real estate seems to be an exception.

Regardless, I will continue on reading and write a second post about what has been added.


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