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The Age of Access

The Shift from Markets to Networks and the Rethinking of Commerce in the 21st Century

Lecture Synopsis:

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of the international best seller, The Age of Access, which has been translated into fourteen languages. Mr. Rifkin's lecture, "The Age of Access", will focus on the profound changes taking place in the global economy with particular emphasis on the new economic models that are beginning to fundamentally change the way we do business.

A great change is occurring in the nature of commerce, although, as yet, it has gone largely undetected and unexamined by the media. The new information and telecommunications technologies, e-commerce and globalization are making possible a new economic era as different from market capitalism as the latter is dissimilar from mercantilism. In the new century, markets are slowly giving way to network ways of conducting business, with far-reaching implications for the future of society.

There are a number of reasons for this basic restructuring of commercial life. First, the near warp speed of economic activity makes discrete market-based transactions far too slow in the coming century. In the new era, because every product is "information intensive" and being continuously upgraded, virtually everything is treated more as a service one accesses than a good one acquires. The notion of exchanging and holding on to fixed property becomes an anachronism in a society where everything is continually evolving. Second, e-commerce reduces market-based transaction costs toward zero, narrowing the traditional profit margins on sales related activity. Third, information and telecommunications technologies allow for a continuous flow of economic activity, transforming commerce from a linear sequence to a cyclical process. In short, in markets economic activity is discrete and bounded in nature while in networks economic activity is uninterrupted and perpetual. In the future, individual market transactions give way to 24/7 commodified relationships in networks in the form of memberships, subscriptions, leases, rentals, time shares, retainer agreements, and other "time-based" access arrangements.

In a linear market-based model of commerce, it is the goods that are commodified. In a process oriented network model, it is human time itself that becomes commodified. Institutions and individuals increasingly pay for the use of things over time rather than pay for the things themselves. That's because in the old economy material resources are scarce and valuable whereas in the new economy human time is the scarce resource. The bottom line is that in an exchange economy, products are the market while in a network economy, each individual's lifetime of experiences is the ultimate market.

In his lecture, Mr. Rifkin will discuss the many features of the emerging new economic system, including: the shift from geography to cyberspace and from national markets to global networks; the conflicts and synergies developing between the traditional intellectual property rights regime and the new open-source access models; the increasing popularity of co-sharing and gain savings agreements between former competitors, suppliers and distributors; the transition from conventional exchange of goods and services to selling human time and experiences; and the emergence of cultural production and new cultural based industries.




The Age of Access

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Articles from Global Column


Los Angeles Times, "World Culture Resists Bowing to Commerce", July 2, 2001

Los Angeles Times, "Consumer Debt is Our Economy's Achilles' Heel", October 15, 2000

The Guardian, "Thanks, Mr President", April 26, 2003

The Guardian, "Log off now", May 26, 2001


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Construction Industry Manufacturers Association

Urban Land Institute

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Telecomm Austria


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