RELATIONSHIP TECH

In the network economy, producing and consuming…

…fuse into a single verb: prosuming.

“Prosumer” is a term coined by Alvin Toffler in 1970 in his still-prescient book Future Shock. (Toffler first found his insights as a futurist while working for the telephone networks.) Today prosumers are everywhere, from restaurants where you assemble your own dinner, to medical self-care arenas, where you serve as doctor and patient.

The future of prosumerism can be seen most clearly online, where some of the very best stuff is produced by the people who consume it. In a multiplayer game like Ultima Online, you get a world with a view and some tools and then you’re on your own to make it exciting. You invent your own character, develop his or her clothing or uniform, acquire unique powers, and build the surrounding history. All the other thousands of characters you interact with have to be sculpted by other prosumers. The adventures that unfurl are cocreated entirely by the participants. Like a real small town, the joint experience–which is all that is being sold–is produced by those who experience it.

These eager world makers could be viewed as nonpaid content makers; in fact, they will pay you to let them make things. But the same world could also be viewed as full of customers who have been given tools with which they can complete a product to their own picky specifications. They are rolling their own, just as they like. In the new economy-speak, this is known as mass customization.

 

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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK