Welcome to the new Enclosure :-) The original Enclosure fenced off land, water, firewood — natural resources — ensuring that no person could simply live, by their own labour, on common land; every person would have to work for wages to buy food, shelter, clothing, etc — to pay rent to a landlord — or if they desired to produce goods from primary materials, to purchase permission to access resources (pasture, forest, lakes, streams, rivers) now claimed and fenced off by the landed gentry. The whole story is a little more complicated than that, of course, but you can google “the Enclosure Act” and find out when and how “sheep eat men” — or if you really like the Long Read, settle down with several cups of tea or coffee and The Making of the English Working Class :-)

Seems to me that today we are in a continuing chapter of the Enclosure process, as increasingly we are unable to access “content” or various technologies without ceding some kind of rent or lease to the owners. The trend is clear over the last couple of decades: more and more software is leased rather than sold, content is DRM’d to prevent copying or sharing, and even pocket devices are locked or boobytrapped (as in some examples above) to punish users who dare to modify a product that they, allegedly, bought and now own. Obviously, the attitude of the manufacturer in such cases is that you don’t actually own that phone or tablet; you are just leasing it from them (with an extraordinarily large down payment!) and they still have control of it and may, at their discretion, deprive you of its utility.

This looks to me like an interesting hybrid between a productive economy and a rentier economy. In a productive economy people actually design, fabricate, produce and market useful things (tools, clothing, dishware, what have you), and receive money in exchange for their efforts. In a rentier economy, owners of resources do not need to design, fabricate, produce or market anything; they simply charge rent for access to any of the resources or tools needed to do any of those things. This means (among other things) that the economy has to support an extra tier of profit-taking (the rentier or owner class… who are producing nothing of use, only asserting their property rights and demanding ransom for resources held hostage). To the extent that an economy has become rentier, fewer of its resources are devoted to productivity (and more to, e.g., legal and policing functions to enforce the Enclosure of resources).

The tech companies increasingly both produce something useful (or delegate that function to cheap-labour countries who do the actual producing of things), sell it, and try to maintain control of it and extract ongoing value from the user of it in exchange for its utility. The “rent” they charge on it might consist of a maintenance contract, or of information about the user’s personal habits (harvested by the device and then sold as databases of interest to marketers) etc. See also, surveillance capitalism.

Anyway, No User Serviceable Parts Inside, in our software age, appears to have become an enforceable policy and not just a hollow threat or vague recommendation. The greatest cost of this chapter of Enclosure imho is not so much the fees (or data) extorted by the rentier class from each individual, or even the systemic burden of that extra layer of profit-taking, but the attempted shutdown of the natural, creative, immensely productive mechanism of human curiosity and tinkering. Unhackable devices prevent hacking, and hacking (at its heart) is the fundamental mechanism of technological development throughout human history. To wonder how something works, take it apart, fix it, maybe improve on it while you’re at it, is the essence of progress in the arts and sciences. To create a completely locked-down technological world is to cripple the very best incubator for new and improved technologies: the curiosity and inventiveness of the masses.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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