Auteur: Jeremy Rifkin
Imagine waking up one day to find that virtually every activity you engage in outside your immediate family has become a "paidfor" experience. Its all part of a fundamental change taking place in the nature of business, contends bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin. On the horizon looms the Age of Access, an era radically different from any we have known.
In the hypercapitalist economy, buying things in markets and owning property become outmoded ideas, while "justintime" access to nearly every kind of service, through vast commercial networks operating in cyberspace, becomes the norm. We increasingly pay for the experience of using things—in the form of subscriptions, memberships, leases, and retainers—rather than for the things themselves. Already, millions of Americans have given up ownership of their automobiles in favor of leasing cars as a service and are renting everything from software to furnaces.
Similarly, companies around the world are selling off real estate, shrinking inventories, leasing equipment, outsourcing activities, and becoming "weightless." Ownership of physical property, once considered a valued asset, is now regarded as a liability in the corporate world.
Rifkin argues that the capitalist journey, which began with the commodification of goods and the ownership of property, is ending with the commodification of human time and experience. In the future, we will purchase enlightenment and play, grooming and grace, and everything in between. "Lifestyle marketing" is the buzz in the commercial world as more and more consumers become members of corporatesponsored clubs and participate in corporatesponsored activities and events. People are even living out their lifestyles in planned commercial residential communities.
The business of business, therefore, is no longer about exchanging property but, rather, about buying access to one's very existence in small commercial time segments. In the Age of Access, Rifkin asks, will any time be left for relationships of a noncommercial nature? The changes taking place are part of an even larger transformation occurring in the nature of capitalism. We are making a longterm shift to a system based on the selling of cultural experiences. Global travel and tourism, theme cities and parks, destination entertainment centers, wellness, fashion and cuisine, sports and games, gambling, music, film, television, the virtual worlds of cyberspace, and even social causes are fast becoming the center of an economy that trades in cultural resources.
The old giants of the industrial age, companies such as General Motors, Sears, USX, Boeing, and Texaco, are giving way to the new giants of cultural capitalism, Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Disney, Sony, and News Corporation. These transnational companies, with communications networks that span the globe, are mining cultural resources in every part of the world and repackaging them in the form of commodities and entertainments. The top onefifth of the world's population, says Rifkin, now spends as much income accessing cultural experiences as buying manufactured goods and basic services.
Rifkin warns that when the culture itself is absorbed into the economy, only commercial bonds will be left to hold society together. The critical question posed by The Age of Access is whether civilization can survive when only the commercial sphere remains as the primary arbiter of human life.
Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of The End of Work and The Biotech Century, both of which have been translated into fifteen languages. Since 1994, Mr. Rifkin has been a fellow at the Wharton School Executive Education Program, where he lectures CEOs and corporate management from around the world on new trends in science and technology and their impacts on the global economy, society, and the environment. I Ie is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C.