National Edition

'Prosumption': Why just about everybody unwittingly works for free

Published: Monday, Sept. 23 2013 10:50 a.m. MDT

CNN has a section called "iReport," where people are asked by the website to create content to "share your story with CNN, and quite possibly the world."

"There is a huge range of prosumer activity from the click of a mouse to actually producing news stories," Incollingo says.

Facebook isn't free

The Internet has become a big part of the trend of prosumption. Social media is an example where people are creating content and providing information for companies like Facebook.

"People love to go online and they love to work on their Facebook page and they have no awareness of the fact that the co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is worth billions because of all the information we have provided. We produced that information and now he can slice it and dice it and sell it in various kind of ways. We have made Mark Zuckerberg a very wealthy person."

Ritzer says it would be impossible for a company to get all this personal information the traditional way. But now people will tell you the most intimate things about their consumption habits, he says.

And if Facebook users can be thought of as nonpaid employees, there are an awful lot of them. According to statistics linked from socialbakers.com, Facebook has 665 million "daily active users" worldwide. These are the people that use the website on a daily basis. Of those people, 139 million are in the U.S. and Canada. This is up from 2011, when there were 372 million worldwide and 105 million in the U.S. and Canada. People who use Facebook on a monthly basis number 1.11 billion.

Social media expert danah boyd (who doesn't capitalize her name) sees Facebook and similar websites in a different way.

"Personally, I think that it's problematic to frame every aspect of life in market terms," says boyd, who is a principal researcher at Microsoft's research lab in Cambridge, Mass. where she studies how people and especially youths interact online. "People don't see themselves as employees when they socialize on social media any more than they see themselves as employees when they wear a T-shirt that advertises their favorite band or sit in their favorite pub, which advertises to other passers-by that this pub is a popular pub. Most simply go to social media to hang out with friends."

Ritzer says as long as people like prosumption and are unaware of it, it may not have much implication for them. But he wants people to at least know that there is an "exploitative" aspect to it.

"There is a tremendous change going on in society today," he says. "Most people are very aware of specific aspects of it, but they don't see its linkage to other aspects. They don't see the linkage between Facebook, Ikea, supermarkets and fast food restaurants and what is going on in those settings. In all those settings, what we see are a series of changes all pushing in the direction of putting more and more of what we used to called work on to the prosumer."

Dailakis, who travels often to perform his comedy around the country, just hopes the trend doesn't go too far.

"If this trend keeps going on," he says, "it won't be too long before when I fly somewhere that I'll have to get my own drinks and food. And then, who knows, maybe I'll have to fly my own plane — but I'll still have to pay for it."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

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