Reflection 4: The Prosumption Presumption
The article by Ritzer and Jurgenson examines the intermingling of consumption and production activities that emerged from Web 2.0. The authors reveal that prosumption, where consumers engage in production activities, came about well before the advent of the internet. These early forms of prosumption involved customers carrying out acts that were previously performed by paid employees, such as bagging their own groceries or pumping their own gas (Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010). Today, prosumption refers to the plethora of tasks willingly performed for free by online users, from blogging, and producing movies, to translating and product reviewing. I would like to explore two ideas based off Ritzer’s and Jurgenson’s work: first, I will explore the possible social repercussions of prosumption 2.0, and second, I would like to further explore the idea of free labour.
Corporations have awakened to the idea of free labour provided by the consumer. Within the past decade, I saw the disappearance of full serve gas stations and bank tellers, accompanied by the proliferation of self-scanners and ATMs. However, these cost-saving and profit-making measures impact the community at large. Fewer unskilled labour jobs affect the most vulnerable sections of society, making it difficult for these people to find meaningful employment. These services jobs are often filled by women, frequently mothers, the less educated, the young (high school and university students) and the old (retirees trying to supplement income). As a result prosumption, these individuals endure great difficulty maintaining financial autonomy, which carries consequences for them and the society at large. Having seen the effect of early prosumption, I wonder what the societal consequences prosumption 2.0 carries. Already, journalists must surrender to bloggers who manage to get the story first and do not have to maintain the same journalistic integrity standards. Professional photographers, product reviewers, and make-up gurus alike feel a similar crunch, replaced by citizens willing to do their work for free.
However, do Web 2.0 users really complete their tasks for free? Ritzer and Jurgenson expressed that it is possible that prosumers are actually not exploited by the corporations who use them. I would like to build on that idea, and propose that prosumers are indeed paid, just not with monetary values. First, prosumers receive recognition for their efforts, which may quite possibly contribute to happiness more than money. Some prosumers rise above simple recognition and are vaulted to celebrity status, and enjoying numerous, and lucrative, benefits. Some users even receive record deals, job offers, though these are certainly the exception rather than the rule. Even bloggers with a relatively small following occasionally receive free samples, party invites, and other perks. However, users may be “paid” in other ways. The altruistic benefits may outweigh the potential monetary gains. Take Allie, the author of the blog Wardrobe Oxygen, for example, who receives hundreds of comments thanking her for tireless efforts to help “real women” dress better. Her followers express their gratitude for Allie’s sage and practical advice, while praising her daily outfit posts. Is it possible to assign a monetary value to these positive feelings? While I do not have an answer, I do suggest that prosumption produces both positive and negative outcomes, and that the average citizen can only adjust their sails.
Ritzer, G., & Jurgenson, N. (2010). Production, consumption, prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer.’ The Journal of Consumer Culture, 10 (1), 13-36.