Question 94 of 365: Should we buy and sell our screen real estate?

My wife and I sold our first house this weekend.

It was the place that both of our children started their lives. It was the first place that we could truly call our own. And, it now belongs to someone else. It is theirs to experience and tell stories about. It is theirs to raise their kids and try not to kill the grass in. And I am happy about the whole process.

However, signing those final papers and seeing the check get deposited in our bank account made it all so surreal. It also brought home the idea that it isn’t something that happens every day. I had never before sold a piece of earth to another human being and I don’t anticipate doing it again for a long time. But, the feeling was so nice and so other worldly that it made me want to think about space in a whole different way.

I owned that piece of land, that space, for a period of time. And with a few notable exceptions (doing illegal things within it), I could do whatever I wanted to with it. While I own many objects, a house is the only space that I have ever owned (although, I guess you could argue a car is a moving space I own, but let’s not get too semantic). And then I started thinking about the spaces that I own online. While I am a huge advocate for the cloud, I don’t think that I can make the case that I really own much of what is up on the internet with my name on it. If all of the hosting services I pay for and Google (which, I mostly don’t) went under, I would be left with nothing. So, I went after a more literal definition of space that I can own.

I own my screens.

I own the displays in my devices that let me interact with all of the data that exists in the same way that I own my house that lets me interact with the other people in my family. Our family owns couple televisions, a couple computers, some cell phones, and an iPod or two. This screen real estate is owned outright. And while, I never had thought about it this way until I sold my first house, what if I were to sell part of that screen to someone else?

What if I wanted to sell 1/10th of my laptop screen to an advertising firm? What if I wanted to lease 1/4th of my TV to my favorite entertainment company? What if I wanted to create a commodified market for screen real estate, where users could actually set the price of their own screens depending on their willingness to click on products and services and the percentage of their screens they wanted to part with.

It seems to me that the companies and advertisers have it exactly backwards. They are dealing with a middleman, a reseller of real estate. They are buying ads from Google or from a television network, when they could be buying it directly from the users. They could be working directly with the customers who will be the ones actually buying their product rather than working with a company who will not. I get that Google is the one distributing the ads, but I don’t think we need a distribution service at all if I am accepting the responsibility for selling off 20% of my screen. I am no longer a passive part of the contract with content providers and marketers. I am no longer trying to fast forward through commercials because I have selected the ones that I want to see. If I have leased my screen, then I must sit through the ads that companies want to push.

And I am now choosing what to be sold. I can choose only technology advertising, or food, or local. If companies really want to get smart, they will stop talking to mobile and location-based ad gurus. They will start talking to users about just what kinds of things they would be interested in selling their screen for.

For example, I would sell 1/10th of my computer screen to a running banner of local deals on food, new technology products, and books and periodicals. I would love to be pushed that information in exchange for a few hundred dollars a year. I would be a more informed consumer and I would be able to afford more of those want-based (rather than need-based) purchases.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems as though many people don’t think that I own my screen enough to sell directly to me. They think that they have to go through a different company that provides the software or the web-service to reach me. It is almost as if Google is putting up billboards on my front lawn and then selling other people the opportunity of putting up ads. But, if they would have just asked me in the first place, I would put up signs for them, so long as they give me a good deal on landscaping or driveway sealing.

Let’s cut out the middleman. Let’s establish a marketplace for screen real estate. Realtors optional.

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