Pro-Con Matrix


In any particular act of the consumer-producer, does consumption outweigh production, or vice versa?Is production a simple extension of consumption (one is in effect buying the right to produce something, as one buys the right to eat a Big Mac?) Or does production become a means of understanding, transforming, perhaps circumventing or re-directing, some segment of the cycle of consumption?

In some activities, and among some practioners, consumption far outweighs production. Websites designed for children often revolve around the lives of the branded toys, foods, and TV characters that animate the incredible edible landscape of the new childhood. Providing young consumers with the design tools needed to create branded placemats, bookmarks, and paper dolls incites a limited productive act in order to stimulate further identification with and consumption of the featured commodity. A highly scripted productive moment remains fully in the service of increased consumption.

At the other end of the matrix we find activities initiated by the purchase of a core set of tools, with production blossoming rapidly from a small investment and not necessarily leading to the immediate purchase of new tools. A simple design program such as PhotoShop, available in both simple and professional formats, can generate huge numbers of home-based products without requiring further investment in Adobe.

Somewhere in the middle of these extremes we find the digital camera, an affordable tool inhabiting a world of add-ons and services that puts in the hands of the consumer a host of aesthetic decisions that formerly belonged to the professional darkroom, and easily hooks into both conventional and electronic forms of publication and dissemination. Subjective factors loom large here: the consumer who takes her cartridge to a corporate kiosk in order to print out 3×5 prints is avoiding the productive capacities of the digital camera. Another consumer who uses the camera to populate a website or edit a newsletter is exploiting the productive end of the PRO-CON MATRIX. For many consumers, such productive work requires training and socialization; user-groups, with or without industry support, and hands-on workshops sponsored by community colleges aid tremendously in putting the means of production in the hands of the consumer.

The consumer-producer’s location on the PRO-CON MATRIX also involves one’s level of engagement (practical, cognitive, critical, and creative) with the tools, processes, and products at hand. Does creating one’s own “brand” (for an idea, a child, a website, a class, or a team) change one’s relation to branding more generally? How much of home design work is pre-programmed by templates and menus? How do these templates imagine in advance certain parameters for design, production, and distribution, and how, when, and why do consumer-producers override these pre-designs? To what extent can consumer-productions function as a kind of bourgeois samizdat ( the illegal mimeographed publications produced by dissidents under Communist rule), offering both alternatives to and commentaries on the main stream of consumer culture, either explicitly, as part of their content and project, or implicitly, through the bare fact of making and sharing objects at the edges of the mass-mediated landscape? Below are three subjective positions on the PRO-CON MATRIX.

Simply learning how to edit a movie or burn a piece of music changes the consumer’s relation to commerical products by giving insight into the processes behind them. Before any reflective critical consciousness lies a phenomenology of production, resident in the sheer acquistion and exercise of practical knowledge, that generates new modes of acquistion and production.

In the contemporary U.S., citizenship has been largely reduced to the economic function of consumption, which in turn generates various identities founded on the dynamics of branding. The operation of politics itself now uses the same mechanisms of marketing that fuel the consumer economy. The productive capacities of the new consumer has the potential to restore at least minimal functions of classical citizenship. Key here is the institution of micro-publics, cells of civil society that empower communication, deliberation, and acts of judgment (whether consumerist, aesthetic, social, or directly political).

At the far end of PRO-CON MATRIX lies the post-consumer, the producer who has transformed or circumvented consumption as such. The post-consumer might act by innovating substantially the means of production, by changing the nature of intellectual property, or by producing free goods that replace consumption for its users. This consumer-producer, who has usually attained a high level of technical and artistic sophistication, may indeed make acts of production so central to her or his livelihood and professional identification that she has left behind the private and bourgeois function of the consumer almost completely.

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