Sam Butler




Stuff You Own

What do you actually own these days?

Your phone? You own a brick and a battery, but Google or Apple could lock you out, shut you down, or bug your phone to obsolesence with a software update any day of the week.

Your movies? Until Amazon takes them out of the digital catalog.

Your Gmail inbox, Facebook account, WhatsApp number, LinkedIn network, and all the other software + apps you use in everyday life?

It’s quite clear that none of us, own none of this.

We can be locked out or removed from these services at any time. They can spy on us, track us, manipulate our emotions and worldviews, and extract from our lives like factory farms extract milk from nursing mothers.

It should be noted, that this relationship hasn’t been all bad. Google and Gmail have provided people with immense knowledge and tools for collaboration. Facebook, for sharing perspectives and worldviews and thoughts and businesses. LinkedIn, for connecting people and work opportunities and professional networks and new peers.

This can, and often has been, aligned and supportive of things that we’re trying to do.

The issue is, this comes at a cost: dependence. You probably don’t want the people serving you something, to have any interest in you becoming dependent on it.

There is a way to address the problem of us owning nothing around us.

Start owning it.

For any service you use, any tool in your toolkit, there is a way for you to own it.

It goes like this:

As a technologist, builder, or problem-solver, what does this mean for you?

If you see problems or opportunities, and want to find ways to address them, this is a straightforward way to raise funding and actually build — alongside the people you are building for.

If you give a man a fish, you can keep collecting donations and tax dollars and earning a salary as “fish-giver” for the rest of your life.

If you give a man a fish, while teaching that man to fish, you can eventually stop giving fish — because the man already knows how to fish for himself.

Then, instead of being a “fish-giver” for the rest of your life, you can move onto other work that will make your life and others’ better — teaching a man to read, teaching a man to build a house, teaching a man to teach.

TLDR: Organizations with a mission shouldn’t last forever. Longevity, with regards to getting something done, is not necessarily a positive attribute like we seem to attribute to it.

Organizations, laws, and institutions should focus on achieving their mission, and then sunsetting themselves — making themselves unnecessary, getting out of the way, and finding a new hill to climb.

The same is true for the people building products, services, and technology.

If your mission is to provide a service, climb that hill and put the service in the hands of the people who will use it, and gracefully make yourself unnecessary.

(There could always be ways to improve the service — and you can keep being compensated for your work to improve the service — but remember, you being compensated is not the purpose. The service is the purpose.)

Then, you can look out from your new vista, and find a whole new world of hills to climb.

Have a product, service, technology, or invention that you desire? (And feel others would to?) Share it in a comment below, start a discussion about it somewhere else, or write me at, and we can explore how to create it as a product / service / technology / invention that you and your peers own, cooperatively.

About the Author

I’m diligently working on the most important problems I can, to create better environmental and social outcomes. That’s why I wrote this on a Sunday morning, and spent yesterday working on coordination tools for community regeneration, gauze pads for natural systems, and non-extractive funding models. Often, this doesn’t align with “making a living”, because that’s not the point. So if you want to support my work and help me focus on what’s important, that support would be much appreciated. Possibly, it could make a big difference — for your life and others, today and in the future. (Proceeds will generally go towards student loan payments, laptop electricity, and vegetarian brain food 🧠💪🏽 — blueberries, usually!)

Ways to contribute:

I can afford to make these choices because of a lot of privileges and opportunities in my life. If you have been afforded similar opportunities — you have adequate savings, a few years of runway, no urgent need to make more money or put more food on the table — consider doing the same. Civilization could use more people working with service in mind. It’s not just about finding a job in a more productive industry. It’s not about the status quo of having a job. It’s about thinking from first principles, understanding how life could be a bit better and how you could contribute to that, and actually doing it. If that aligns with consistent employment and paychecks, that will be comfortable. If it doesn’t — well, sometimes, doing what’s uncomfortable is what’s best for us.