I recently signed up for Spotify, a music service that allows you to find, and listen to, whole tracks and albums. It's less social than LastFM, say, but more focused around the specific music you want – whereas LastFM uses the artist you like as a springboard for finding other artists, Spotify uses it just to give you that artist's music.
It brought back to me some considerations I'd had about the nature of ownership. My generation will have a distinctly different concept of ownership to that of my daughter's generation. For my generation you partly constructed your identity around what you owned – your bookshelf, record collection and DVD archive were important aspects of who you were (as anyone who has read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity will appreciate). But for the digital generation this strong link with ownership has been broken.
It took time and money to build up any of those collections. Therefore they demonstrated a commitment which was worth exhibiting. In a digital world this effort is greatly reduced, and as a result so is the emotional attachment one feels towards them. How often would people say that their book collection or record collection would be the things they would want to save from a burning house? This simply doesn't apply anymore – you can just download again (iTunes keeps a record of what you've purchased or you just download ahem, free, versions from BitTorrent).
But even more than this, the need to own anything is reduced. Imagine a service like Spotify greatly increased so you could find any artist, and with mobile devices, get access anywhere. Why do I need to own any of these tracks then? I can get them whenever I want, and isn't that the point of ownership, to have access under your control?
Obviously there are some things you still need to own (clothes, cars, phones, etc), but if so many previously coveted items move to cloud services, what will the next generation cherish? I think the answer is evident already in where they spend their time – it's in their identity. This was one of the functions of owning these items in the first place after all. For the digital generation things that cannot be easily duplicated will be important – this will be the MySpace or Facebook page they have generated over a long time, the network they have created. These represent the 'things I'd save from a fire' in an online world.
As for us? Ownership is a hard habit to break.