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Beyond Consumption

David de Ugarte:

"There’s not a lot to miss. The “consumer” is an alienated and alienating concept. All sovereignty attributed to the individual as consumer is reduced to choosing between the options on a menu created by others. The whole being of the consumer is located outside of the transformative capacity of the society in which s/he lives. Consumers choose, they don’t make or create. It’s so dehumanized as a concept that it’s not useful to better understand history and historical change. It’s as sterile a way understand the human experience as an industrial park is to describe urban life.

Once the core social concept is accepted, it’s no wonder that the proposed is equally inane and frustrating: the rejection of consumption itself and, therefore, the acceptance of various forms of voluntary poverty, artificial scarcity, and, at its root, a radical fear of the transformative capacity of knowledge. This is a narrative of “self-hate” on a scale of our whole species. Neither the concept of “consumer” nor anti-consumerism help us to understand our world or to give it shape and a future.

In the new world we see emerging, all those categories disappear. The idea is simple: at its limit, a world based on these productive models is a society where a normal person, seeing a new need, responds by looking for what to contribute to produce what’s needed. This new space of individual responsibility can take many forms: collaborating on a translation, documenting a product, developing code, creating designs, making blueprints and formulas, contributing improvements, or testing results; perhaps, collaborating on crowdfunding or helping publicize a project, perhaps creating results in a workshop or customizing them for others. Many times, it could mean starting to learn on the network itself what’s needed to be able to outline a proposal, looking for others who have enough knowledge to develop it, starting up a conversation with them, and creating a community around it.

Anyone who does any of these things is no longer a consumer, but a direct part–to different degrees–of the process of creation and production of the things they are going to use. They are part of a community in which personal, human relations are established to create new goods. What they make has meaning–they contribute and learn in a framework aimed at results. They are a producer who uses what they produce with others. And this relationship is new: they are an artisan whose workshop is globalized by the network and technology. This is as far as we could imagine from being a “consumer.”

The process in which a commons is formed in P2P production, the way a product emerges in the direct economy, creates an empowered form of conversational community, a community of knowledge oriented towards making, towards creating tangible products and tools.

All products, in all times and systems, “are carriers of worlds”–they create social meaning. What’s different now is that this meaning, the values that give it social content, are made obvious throughout the process to those who are part of it. The community that creates something new discusses “why” and “how” until everyone is satisfied. The community dimension of the new productive forms turns each new product in an act of transformation that is conscious of Nature and of the social surroundings.

This is the polar opposite of consumption oriented by the mass media and adherence to the recentralizers of the Internet. The passive expression of liking or disliking doesn’t work in this kind of relationship between individual and network. Identity is built through choices and learning in conversation on networks oriented towards making, not as the result of a series of buying patterns, or as a mold. Identity is no longer something that objects impose on people; they now discover themselves in the story that communities give to their creations." (