I feel like over the past couple of years, I keep running into arguments and research suggesting that the so-called “tragedy of the commons”, along with other similar bugbears, is a myth.

In economics and in an ecological context, the tragedy of the commons is a situation in which individual users, who have open access to a resource unhampered by shared social structures or formal rules that govern access and use, act independently according to their own self-interest and, contrary to the common good of all users, cause depletion of the resource through their uncoordinated action in case there are too many users related to the available resources.

It came to mind this morning when I was browsing the Federated timeline on Mastodon and ran smack into a wall of a Cory Doctorow thread of at least twenty toots, all with a post visiblity of Public, rather than—as commonly recommended—posting only the first (and maybe the last, if it’s truly a long thread) as Public and the rest as Unlisted, which allows those who’ve chosen to receive these threads to get them in their Home timeline but spares everyone else.

(Alternatively, you simply could blog, which Doctorow also does, so it escapes me why he thinks he also needs to spam social media timelines.)

It’s true that I can mute him, and I did, but I’d argue that I would not have to expend the cognitive resources (from my impaired and limited budget of such) on this sort of thing if people in love with their own opinions simply would have respect for the commons—because the Federated timeline is exactly and precisely that: an unregulated commons.

An unregulated commons only works, can only ever work, if those making use of it respect each other’s time and attention. I get that in the absence of content-surfacing algorithms on Mastodon, the only way to game the system is to spam the commons, but in the scheme of things “the people need a manageable commons” is an exponentially more important value than “the people need to hear what I have to say”.

I’ve been generally convinced by those whose research suggests that there is no “tragedy of the commons”, but Doctorow and those of similar influencer inclinations are doing yeoman’s work for the counterpoint, a monopolization of the commons that isn’t especially pluralistic of him.