Death to the consumer

Death to the consumer

: I was just thinking how wrong the word “consumer” is today — especially in the world of news, information, and media. For we don’t just consume anymore; it’s not a one-way world now. We produce. We report. We write. We edit. We improve. We amend. We remix. We comment. We argue. We correct. We distribute.

And then I saw Paul Ford say:

The word “consumers” makes me sad for this world. Whenever someone tries to convince you of advertising’s nobility, remember that word — the industry looks at you and sees not a human, but a gobbling creature with money to spend.

Kottke adds:

I can’t recall where I heard this, but my favorite definition of a consumer is “a wallet with a mouth”.

And then I saw Ernie Miller at Corante riff beautifully on the matter of consumption versus whatever it is we do now:

…We aren’t at the beginning of an era where we numbly accept content. The beginning of that era was when Edison first set stylus to wax cylinder, the beginning of the era of mechanical reproduction. It was an era of unchangeable physical format that could only be produced and distributed efficiently en masse. That era is dying.

After less than a century of dominance, I believe that people are waking up from the consumerist coma induced by the era of mechanical reproduction. What we are seeing is the birth of a new era, an era of empowerment, where people are both consumers and producers of content, a wonderful bricolage of both old and new. Blogs are one example (if you are reading this, you aren’t reading only what traditional publishers put out), but so is the Grey Album, Phantom Edit, machinima, and the whole modding community (among others).

We need a new word for what we are and what we do in media. I despise the word “prosumer.” It reminds me of “proactive,” an awkward, made-up, management-meeting word I refuse to dignify with use.

I call this world of weblogs, forums, wikis, videologs and all that “citizens’ media.” But what do we call the citizens, the former members of the audience, and what do we call what we do in this new, two-way media world?

  • anne.elk

    a) citizen
    b) participate
    same as it ever was, same as it ever was, …

  • ” exchangers “, maybe ?? Implying an equality that was never present, before.
    What’s worse than being looked at as a “consumer” – a wallet with a mouth – is that politicians look at us solely as “revenue sources” !!

  • tom beta 2

    I’ll second anne.elk’s first choice: citizen. That about gets it right, I think.

  • I prefer the word “person”, but hey, that’s just me.

  • People have been throwing around “citizen journalist”.

  • correspondents?
    It implies an exchange.

  • old maltese

    Thank you many times over for being anti-‘proactive’. You are a man of discernment and discrimination.

  • Subsumers?

  • Jeff = I’ve always thought “consumer” and especially “consumer confidence” was used as code for “women” and “women shoppers” and has an unpleasant sexist taint — very Donna Reed deciding on which laundry soap to buy.
    I think you’re right, we’ve completely blurred the lines between making things, using things, creating, engaging, performing, learning, digesting to the point where “consume” just doesn’t cut it as a verb. Halley

  • billg

    Gotta say I’ve never considered myself as part of an “audience” or someone who sits “numbly” while I consume content. Maybe those are words the content industry uses in reference to their targeted customers, but those customers usually think of themselves as “people”.
    In any case, it’s the content that counts, not who publishes it or how it is published. Blogs are interesting because they sometimes point you to new sources of original content. Beyond that. almost all blogs spend almost all of their time telling people how the blogmeister feels about something. In other words, most blogs are parastic little creatures that would starve for ideas if left on their own. Does this constitute a media revolution? No.
    The internet does present an opportunity for people to publish without first selling their product to a publisher. That’s nice. Trouble is, most people publishing to the web don’t have much to say.

  • Agreeing with anne.elk again… checking sky for signs of flying porcine creatures… Ouch! A monkey just flew out of my butt!
    Seriously, we don’t need any new awful Frankenwords. Just say no to Mutant English.

  • Hi Jeff, gotta disagree on this one… there seems to be an underlying assumption there that everyone is like us, and everyone will choose to be actively interactive with each conversation.
    Granted, the word “consumer” may be used in many cases in the cattle-lot sense, but that doesn’t mean that all other uses of the word are invalid.
    Sometimes you’ll want to interact. Sometimes you won’t. The mix will vary with the person. True…?

  • Uh. Halley, wouldn’t “women shoppers” more correctly be consumresses?

  • Jeff, we already have a word for it: users. Users aren’t passive consumers, they’re producers, creators, designers of media. At least it strikes me that way.
    It’s not about coming up with a new word. It’s about stretching the words we have in new ways.