The Rise of the Prosumer

Since starting my first session of University last week, I have found myself deeply intrigued by the ideas discussed in Convergent Media Practices.

Rather than being a technological process, convergence is described by media scholar Henry Jenkins as a cultural shift whereby consumers actively participate in the circulation of media content.  As a result, the once distant relationships between audiences, industries and technologies have given way to a dynamic environment consisting of average citizens producing, sharing and distributing media content. This unprecedented rise of the “prosumer” has accelerated the growth of paratextual markets as audiences once positioned at the end point of a linear chain now appropriate and recountextualise primary texts, seeking to maximise engagement and discussion across multiple media channels. Through this transition, conflict between commercial media conglomerates and the active, empowered, socially connected public arise due to a shift in patterns of ownership.

3D printing, the emerging technology I have chosen to research, epitomises these changing intersections between producers and consumers. Utilising an additive process whereby successive layers of material are built to form a three-dimensional solid object, 3D printing is opening up endless opportunities for the manufacturing and medical fields, having been employed to construct homes,  to create replacement bones and to assist during facial reconstruction surgery. It is also believed that 3D printing can minimise the waste caused by traditional manufacturing, tackle world hunger, stop the killing of animals to create leather products, and assist with recycling. At the same time, however, 3D printers are becoming cheap enough for home use, raising a number of concerns such as DIY gunsmithing, threats to intellectual property due to the creation of unauthorised versions of patented objects, consumer safety as a result of faulty products, loss of jobs in current manufacturing industries and an increase in fraud given the ability to print credit cards and car keys.

It is at this point that the reasoning behind philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s paradoxical phrase “The Medium is the Message” becomes clear. McLuhan argued that each medium, independent of its content,  has its own effects, which, in turn, produces a unique message. Thus, if a new medium has the potential to cause disruptive effects, then it is possible to control its evolution prior to becoming pervasive.  From this, it becomes evident that, in speculating the future of 3D printers, we must not give in to technological determinism, that is, where the medium shapes society, but rather, cease control of this technology as it enters our everyday lives.



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