Prosumption his Third Wave, whereby Toffler sees contemporary

Prosumption is the combination of both production and
consumption (Ritzer, 2015). Whilst prosumption has always existed the rapid
advancement in technology, especially with the creation of the Web 2.0 and its
key characteristic ‘user generated content’ has led to a gradual shift over the
past decade (Ritzer, 2015). Previously businesses had full control, whereas
today we as consumers hold the influence and power. This essay will go into
further detail about prosumption, the shift and the influence and power we hold
as a consumer. There will be a particular reference throughout to the
successful e-commerce Chicago T- shirt company Threadless.

(Ritzer
and Jurgenson, 2010) The term “prosumer” is typically affiliated with Alvin
Toffler (1980). In his research Toffler recognised ‘three waves.’ However most
significant to explaining the concept of prosumption and the prosumer is his
Third Wave, whereby Toffler sees contemporary society moving away from the
separation of production and consumption and shifting towards the joining of the
both processes ultimately resulting in the ‘rise of the prosumer’ (Toffler,
1980:265, as cited in Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010). A contemporary example of the
joining of consumption and production is the E-commerce T- shirt website
‘Threadless.’ Threadless runs design competitions, members are able to submit
their ideas for T-shirt designs and vote on the best. The winning design is
then transformed into a design that can bought (Chafkin, 2008). In Toffler’s
view (1980) this new sense of freedom we hold as a prosumer means that our
lives “will be less monotonous, more varied, more well rounded, more creative
and ultimately, more satisfying” (Toffler, 1980, as cited in Ritzer, 2015,
p.15). Through prosumption we are given the freedom and ability to shape our
own identities and even fashion choices, for example we aren’t limited to the
clothes ready in stores anymore we hold the ability to design and customise. In
criticism to Toffler’s view of a “more satisfying life” (Ritzer and Jurgenson,
2010) argue that capitalism has found a new technique in exploiting the labour
power of society. From a neo- Marxist perspective
prosumerism is criticised due to the idea of differing ownership in terms of
manufacturing. “It is the owners, not the consumers, who own the productive
resources and it is this that gives them the ability to exploit customers.”
(Roemer, 1982 as cited in Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010, p.26). There are laws in
place to prevent businesses from exploiting workers, yet consumers do unlimited
work.  We as consumers have to do much of the
work in designing the Threadless T-shirt which would have been done by a paid
designer, the consumer does it for no pay, saving the business money on labour
costs. Consequently, this independence and freedom hold arguably leads to job
cuts and the rise of “temporary employees” (Humphreys and Grayson, 2008, as
cited in Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010).

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It is through the Web 2.0. that saw the substantial growth in
prosumption (Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010). A key feature of modern day
prosumption on the Web 2.0 is through social networking sites like Facebook
which enables users to create profiles based of images, text and communities
(Boyd, 2006, 2008a, 2000b as cited in Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010). Whereas
before we didn’t have the technology or the capability. Baker (2008) made the
comparison “Threadless resembles these Web 2.0
firms” and this is especially due to communication and community element.  As stated within the article (Baker, 2008) “Hundreds
­of thousands of people were using the site as a kind of
community center, where they blogged, chatted about designs, socialized with
their fellow enthusiasts…” Here Individuals have a chance to discuss and
ultimately rebel against designs through the online community. Before
technology advancements this discussion wouldn’t have been possible, therefore
making it harder to connect and talk with businesses, giving us little options
and chance for our own designs. Moreover, the ability for people to communicate
and interact is a massive advantage for businesses like Threadless as they are
able to see customers design preferences. Ultimately in long term they will save
on production costs as if there was no community and discussion element
Threadless wouldn’t be aware of preferences and customer wishes.

As mentioned throughout Prosumption
gives us the ability to customise and choose what we want. The Threadless business
model and the concept of prosumption goes against Marxist viewpoint “People are
distanced from the production of objects and their full materiality, resulting
in experiences of estrangement and alienation…” (Lury, 2015, pg.37) We are
brought closer to the product as we get to see it through the stages “idea
generation, marketing, sales forecasting…” (Chafkin, 2015) The Threadless
community ultimately has a relationship with the product right from the start
through to the end. We have seen a shift from going into a store, selecting an
item of clothing already designed and marketed for us and purchasing it. Now we
now hold the power to make decisions for ourselves and tailor to our needs.

Above all, it is important when explaining prosumption to
remember that it is the combination of both production and consumption (Ritzer,
2015) and that it has always existed within society. Prosumption actively
encourages people to engage giving them more choices and opportunities.
However, it could be argued that capitalism has entered a new form and we are still
being exploited.

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