THE PROSUMER: EXPLOITATION OF HUB MEMBERS

Provocation Article 4: This is the fourth in a series of provocative articles taken from a paper by Platform-7’s founder critiquing the fad for hubs and the idea (within the UK) of the creative economy. These article will appear over the summer of 2014 in advance of a major new Platform-7 intervention, Creative Publics, beginning Autumn 2014.

Professor Andy Pratt states in his study, The Enigma that is Platform-7, that the company ‘offers in civil society realms, new modalities of interaction that challenge normative politics, or individualised responses: a more collective response. It offers something very close to the cutting edge of business practice as well: the nexus of pro-sumption’ (Pratt, 2014).

Image: www.nomorecubes.com

Alvin Toffler, coined Pro-sumption in his 1980 book The Third Wave, where he predicted that people would adapt their behaviour towards the goods and services they consume (Toffler, 1980). He forecast that computers would allow consumption to become increasingly integrated with production, distribution and exchange. The entire production process would move from factory worker into the hands of everyday people. ‘Mass industrialization and consumption, Toffler argued, would be eclipsed by self-customization led by the hybrid producer-consumer: what he called the prosumer.’ (Comor, 2010)

Hubs, it can also be argued, are attempting to accelerate the concept of prosumption by encouraging like-minded people to gather and merge both their produce and consumption simultaneously within a provided space. Monetary exchange is conspicuous by its absence, little or sometimes no reference is made to the normative business practice of paying financially for a service. Co-working, collaboration, co-joined working create a ‘network of collaborators focused on making a positive impact in our world’ (Impact Hub website, 2014). Google Campus’ mission ‘is to create an environment that encourages innovation through collaboration, mentorship, and networking.’ (Google Campus website, 2014) while for Tech Hub it is only ‘by getting the right people together in a physical space, good things happen’ (Tech Hub website, 2014), and at The Trampery there is no irony when they state ‘we […] help our members achieve impossible things. We cultivate strong multi-disciplinary communities that are rich in support and ideas’ (The Trampery website, 2014). Of course money is not absent. All the members pay to be part of the hub, they bring their skill to the hub, they share their knowledge within the hub (generally without compensation under the guise of sharing best practice) all the time improving the status and commercial viability of the hub.

George Ritzer regards online sites such as Facebook and Pinterest as ‘playgrounds’. He writes that ‘you might feel a bit different about them, and perhaps behave differently, if you also thought about them as modern-day factories and yourself as unpaid drones slaving away on those sites for the benefit of their corporate owners’ (Ritzer, 2013). Hubs are, for all intents and purposes, identical real world indistinguishable models. Keen, generally young people, with ideas and challenging thoughts are rounded up into new forms of classroom and pay to have their hopes and inspirations leached.

‘If the purpose and result of prosumer labour is the advancement of exchange values, status quo relations are likely to remain unchanged. To put it more simply, beyond the prosumer’s economic exploitation vis-à-vis the production process, if prosumption is a tool to make money existing relations dominated by capital will be perpetuated. On the other hand, if the prosumer creates non-commodified products and services – things crafted primarily for their material, psychological or social usefulness – those who argue that prosumption is a potentially progressive development have an intriguing point.’ (Comor, 2010)

It is the money exchange element that is the Achilles Heel to hubs becoming the nest bed for a seismic shift from an industrialised capitalist society into a more egalitarian civilization, where wealth, in its broader meaning, continues to expand. Hubs purport to represent a new emergent innovative collaborative working system when in fact they sit central fat square in the existing capitalist paradigm in which the capitalist (or bourgeois owner) only provides space at a premium and produce little except profit for the owner.

Toffler quoted psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy in his book as stating, ‘the new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction’ (Toffler, 1980)

There is an undertone within the marketing of hub spaces that by being a member a person will become part of a paradigmatic shift, which the hub is somehow directing. However, the contradiction is that the hub does not develop or encourage radical rethinking of thought; rather they are a reinforcement of the supposed mode of best practice.

For radical innovation to emerge, both at a business and societal level, there needs to be a ‘judicious intersection of the “possible” with the ‘”unthinkable’’’. The most useful elements to help create a shift in our present thinking may already be noticeable and available but we are presently unable to see (Wood, 2014).

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Provocation Article 4: Click to read other articles:

Article 1: Trim Tabs: How art can change the world

Article 2: Hubs: Little more than a place to work

Article 3: Advertucation: An Education by Advertising Stagnation

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Bibliography

Comor, Edward. (2010), Digital prosumption and alienation, online publication ‘Digital labour: Workers, authors, citizens’, Vol 10 3/4, found on ephemera, theory & politics in organisations, [http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/digital-prosumption-and-alienation]

Pratt, C. Andy., Mattocks, Kate., Kesimoglou, Aysegul., (2014), The Enigma that is Platform-7:

CWL Creative Voucher, The Silent Cacophony case study, Place Work Knowledge, Creativeworks London, AHRC, Queen Mary, University of London, [found online: http://www.creativeworkslondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/PWK-Working-Paper-8.pdf%5D, 20 May 2014.

Ritzer, George. (2013), Introduction to Sociology: Are You a Digital Drone?, Chapter 16, Pages 666-667, Sage, [found online: http://georgeritzer.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/are-you-a-digital-drone/%5D

Toffler, Alvin. (1970), Future Shock. New York: Random House. p. 367.

Toffler, Alvin. (1980), The Third Way, New York, Batman Books.

Wood, John. (2014), Plato’s understanding of ‘paradigm’, Metadesigners.org, online [found at http://metadesigners.org/Paradigm-Glossary

Weblinks in order of appearance:

http://www.impacthub.net/ – Impact Hub

https://www.campuslondon.com/ – Google Campus

http://www.techhub.com/ – Tech Hub

http://www.thetrampery.com/ – The Trampery

John McKiernan