‘The End of Ownership’ by Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz

If you buy a book at the book shop, you own it, and are free to do exactly as you wish with it. You might be surprised to hear that the same is not true of ebooks and other downloaded media. In fact, as Aaron Personowski and Jason Schultz discuss, the digital world is an incredibly complicated place when it comes to ownership.


Chances are if you own an iPod, Kindle or even a desktop or laptop you are no stranger to the world of the digital download. It is becoming more and more common to simply pay for a digital copy of a song, book or film, rather than worrying about cumbersome physical objects. Who even has time to wait for an Amazon delivery these days, anyway? The digital download has done wonders for the instant gratification of consumers, but at what cost? Like it or not, each time you click ‘pay now’ on a digital purchase, you are entering a new and confusing world, rife with rules, regimes and regulations that restrict how you interact with your downloads.

Authors Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz use their book to delve into the complex, jargon-ridden world of the rights of digital consumers, to uncover the mystery of whether we can really be considered ‘owners’ of our digitalia. As the owner of a physical object you enjoy certain freedoms; if you have a collection of print books, you are free to annotate them, modify them, or even destroy them if you want to. The same however, cannot be said to the ‘owners’ of downloaded goods.

Every time you buy an ebook from Amazon or a song from iTunes you sign an end-user licence agreement (EULA) – let’s be honest, you have probably never read it – the contents of which are far removed from the freedom we enjoy with physical ownership. Consumers do not actually own digital purchases, they license them and have the permission to read, listen to, play, or watch them. Slightly more worrying is the fact that the company providing the software used to access these files effectively has control over a user’s digital library.

Here’s an interesting case. In July 2009 Amazon remotely, and without warning, wiped (irony of ironies) George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘Animal Farm’ from all Kindle ereaders, following a dispute with the publishers.

Small fry, perhaps? Permissible collateral damage? Well, what happens when devices, or corporations, become obsolete? That’s what happened to HDGIANTS Inc, a former distributor of high-quality audio and video files. When it went bankrupt, its servers were switched off, and with that, portions of the digital libraries of thousands of paying customers evaporated.

So how content should consumers be with their content? A bookshop cannot, as Schultz and Perzanowski point out, creep into your house in the middle of the night and reclaim the contents of your physical shelves – so why can digital providers? Is it fair that book lovers and audiophiles are charged prices akin to a physical copy for a digital download that is completely at the mercy of publishers and licensers? What is the benefit to the consumer of opting for digital files? Are the benefits of reducing waste and getting instant gratification really worth it?

‘The End of Ownership’ presents the confusing world of the digital consumer in wonderfully accessible prose, replacing hideous jargon with the simplest of analogies, from thieving bookshops to the goblins from Harry Potter. It will answer the questions you have regarding digital ownership, and it’s inevitable that more than a few of them have never even crossed your mind.

In an increasingly complex world, plagued by unreadable (certainly unread) terms and conditions, it is more than a little refreshing to have something explained in good, plain English.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ― Nelson Mandela

Nonsense is futile.

Who Touched Based in my Thought Shower? A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon ― Steven Poole


The ability, or rather desire, to speak clearly seems to have decreased substantially in recent years. Office jargon emerged across the UK and the USA in the late 20th century, but it has grown more meaningless and, frankly, perverse as time has progressed.

Author, journalist and cultural critic Steven Poole attempts to chase the roots of some of the more common and obscure examples of modern day office jargon in Who touched base in my thought shower?. Poole gives examples of office jargon ranging from “across the piece” to “zerotasking”, giving hilarious literal deconstructions, before exploring the origin and development of each phrase.

The book appeals for individuals to simply say what they mean, rather than subjecting workers to the horrors of jargon, which he refers to as one of the most “spirit sapping indignities of modern life”. There is nothing more frustrating than obscuring meaning through the use of meaningless terminology, which presents itself as “a kind of cheap competence that often marks a lack of competence in anything that matters”.

Poole writes of how he became extremely popular upon first writing about jargon for the Guardian in 2013. Commenters on the Guardian website’s network related to Poole’s fury by saying that office jargon made them want to “stab someone in the eye with a pen”, and even admitting to engaging in “Bullshit bingo” during meetings, by picking out how many times bosses used ridiculous terms.

Nowadays jargon is extensively used within the workplace and by those in the public sphere, and has proved particularly popular among politicians. Poole points out that Margaret Thatcher was one of the few politicians who refused to use jargon, referring to it as “all this guffy stuff”.

Speaking about his book on Radio 4’s Today programme, Poole emphasised that office jargon often has far more sinister undertones than just being annoying, and is frequently used by bosses in an attempt to obscure what is actually going on. Examples include referring to the need for staff cutbacks as “resizing” the company, rather than simply saying that people will be laid off – resizing would never be used if a company was being expanded.

Poole’s message is on the importance of clarity of communication. In a world where offices and organisations are increasingly interacting with people for whom English is not a first language, it is important, now more than ever before, to communicate clearly and without all the ‘guff’ that office jargon encompasses. Meaning is so easily lost when tied up within jargon, if indeed a meaning ever existed in the first place. To give a famous example, Kevin Rudd told an interviewer back in 2008 when asked a question about Asian security “I’ll reverse engineer and start at the third and move back to the first”. Frankly, your guess is as good as mine – and presumably his.

Poole’s concise jargon dictionary is a hilarious look at modern office jargon and the perceived need to obscure all meaning. A phrase which stands out as perhaps the most memorable: “As the astronaut Jack Swigert famously said during the near catastrophic Apollo 13 mission: “Houston, we have a solution opportunity”, because of course, it would be wrong to ever admit to there being a problem.

This review was first published in Global: the international briefing