Part 5- From Consumer to Prosumer, from User to Profuser

FROM “CONSUMER” to “USER” to “PROFUSER” – about the meaning of words

The term “sustainable consumption” is an oxymoron – a contradiction in itself - of the same quality as “postal service” and “military intelligence”.

The tem “sustainable consumer” may make sense with regard to food, water, fuel and other resources, which are lost in consumption, but certainly has no place when talking about durable goods. Our language therefore should follow our vision of a sustainable society, from consumption to active stewardship, which demands a shift in terminology:

                                      From “CONSUMER” to “USER” and to “PROFUSER”.

Toffler coined the term “PROSUMER”, referring to a convergence of the consumer and the producer and involving processes in which consumers co-produce the products they consume, for instance by personalizing the manufacturing specifications of a car or a computer to their own taste or needs. Toffler first used the term prosumer in his 1980 book The Third Wave; today it is increasingly used in marketing for activities with no clear distinction between locations and devices. PROSUMERS are children of the linear industrial economy, based on managing flows and value added to measure economic growth. Internet has finally given everybody the chance to become a PROSUMER, witness Wikipedia, WikiLeaks and personal blogs.

Returning to the world of physical objects, consumers turned users of manufactured objects gradually shift to become “PROFUSERS”, or Profound-Users. “Profusion” is a new sustainability term for lasting wealth, plethora, capital, treasure. A PROFUSER is an owner managing physical stocks and capitals to maintain their value – a key actor of the Circular Economy. No manufacturer produces objects that last 100 years, but innumerable objects of this age – form buildings to automobiles – exist, courtesy of often anonymous PROFUSERS. The NASA space shuttle system was not manufactured to operate for 33 years, but NASA, its owner-manager – the PROFUSER - made it last that long.

PROFUSERS have a profound resolve and knowledge of making objects last, for instance through caring, operation and maintenance (O&M). Hundred years ago, the norm was owners repairing – or having repaired - their goods; many owners maintained themselves their cars, houses and household items. During eras of abundance, this knowledge tends to fade away but can be reactivated if needed. Technical, even planned obsolescence can often be overcome by inventions, which share knowledge, skills and tools, both in commercial firms and social forums, such as repair cafés and through websites, such as, empowering PROFUSERS to a degree which for some time had ceased to exist.

In the virtual world of Internet, social networks, smart phones, wearable IT and ultimately the ‘Internet of Things (IoT), “USER” has always been the standard term – and yet this is where people are probably the biggest consumers, albeit of audio-visual data. The Internet of Things (IoT) has made everyone a PRODUCER of data, e.g. through wearable and driveable electronic devices, the data of which are gathered by companies like Google, Apple or Amazon and commercialised in the global ‘Big Data’ markets. Toffler’s “PROSUMER” has reached a dimension, which its inventor probably never imagined, and in which authorship and property rights, basically protected through national laws, are mostly ignored.

Policymakers so far have not come to grips, neither with the PROSUMER (producer-consumer) of the digital nor the PROFUSER (profound-user) of the physical world. Yet understanding how they can contribute to a more sustainable society may be a key to our sustainable future.

You can read more about this subject, for example the article : "Wunschkind Murks, oder wer plant die Obszoleszenz ?" is available if you click here