I think it is interesting to look at web 2.0 applications under the notion of “prosumption”. Prosumption is an economic model, “where capitalist subjects produce what they consume, turning consumption in to a form of production“ (Boellstorff 2008). This idea is elaborated in Toffler’s book “The Third Wave” (which I have yet to get) (Toffler 1980). In his very, very recommendable book “Coming of Age in Second Life”, Tom Boellstorff puts the “prosumer” (In “Second Life”) in a bigger framework of “creationist capitalism”. Production and consumption conflate – to fully participate in second life’s culture you have to create something.“In creationist capitalism it is persons who create, not God” (or the companies). The theme of the mood in which such ideas subside is nicely captured by Purdy’s article “The God of the Digerati”, available here (Purdy 1998).
The model of prosumption is not only applicable to “Second Life”, we can easily see how it fits networks like YouTube (or this blog post). But what does it mean that consumption becomes a form of production?
First and foremost it sounds like a manager’s dream. Not the company has to create the products the user consumes, users create their own products. The only task that is left, is to provide the infrastructure (Sounds great, but apparently YouTube still doesn’t make any profit).
Secondly, this might denote bigger cultural developments and since it is social interaction which is happening in these networks, it sets the frame for these interactions. Maybe this is the more interesting question. What does it mean that people participate in a culture where consumption means production, and what is it that they are producing? Posing this question presses us inevitably in a marxist tradition. The first and obvious answer is that people are selling themselves, their personality (in the widest sense) to the potential audience. They create a certain personality for display (might as well be their everyday character), and in the act of creation they are consuming this very portary. Now, I won’t try to elaborate further on this topic since it will probably only lead me to wild fantasizing, but I think the question alone is worth entertaining.
Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life : An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Purdy, JS. „The God of the Digerati: Wired Magazine Says with New Technology We’ll All Be Like Gods and Should Get Good at It.“ American Prospect (1998): 86-90.
Toffler, Alvin. The Third Wave. 1st ed. New York: Morrow, 1980.