(Purchasing) Power To The People!


Let’s try something. I’m going to name a bunch of things, and you guess what they all have in common, okay? Here we go:

  1. Uber
  2. iTunes
  3. AirBnB
  4. 3D Printing
  5. Self-Publishing
  6. Craft Breweries
  7. Maker Fairs
  8. Etsy

Anyone else seeing connections? Don’t want the entire album? No problem. Can’t wait for your masterpiece to be read by others? Of course you can’t. Opposed to stuffy, impersonal hotel rooms? Alrighty then. It sounds like there’s a new tune being sung by consumers, and it goes something like “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not the boss of me.” As tunes go, it’s pretty catchy.

Okay, so the business models on which these trends are based are still a little iffy. There’s the threat of looming monopolies, copyright issues, liabilities, and glitches in the tech that supports them. In the end, we’re still not sure which corporate entities are scooping up the profits from them. There are always growing pains, but I still see some positives in all of this.

For one thing, we’re setting up service industries that cater to our sense of individualism. If we’re going to shell out for stuff, we want it to be just right for us, and we’ll even pay someone to help us design and create it according to our own personal specifications. People want to carve out an identity for themselves in the market, as opposed to being lumped into a demographic. That’s at least a little encouraging, right?

What’s more, we’re realizing that we’re capable of much more than we thought. DYI isn’t, by any means, a new concept. In fact, it used to be the norm (cue romanticized visions of brave pioneers with ploughs, hatchets, looms, etc.). Maybe we’re just revisiting something we pushed aside when we got all urban and wimpy. DYI doesn’t just mean “Do It Yourself” anymore. It’s come to mean “Decide It Yourself” too. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these new entities and services are actually making life just a little more democratic, even if it is just us voting with our credit cards.

In general, I think all of the things on the list stand as quiet reminders that, even while pelted with messages from mass media, we’re still autonomous beings with minds of our own. When you get to pick, and when you’re held responsible for your choices, you get to peek behind the curtain and see how things work, how things are made, how people live, and you have tangible evidence there’s always another way to do things. This glimpse of the inner workings of stuff helps us to remember that we’re not stuff ourselves. We’re more than wee little cogs in a bigger machine. We get to decide, probably more often than we realize.

So what do we do with this newfound power? How do we make the most of this trend toward having it how we want, when we want? Well, we apply it to other parts of our lives too. If we can think critically enough to decide we don’t want to pay double the amount for a stinky taxi with a rude driver, then surely we can turn a discerning eye to world issues. If we can articulate what makes a truly great bottle of suds, we can definitely discuss what we want in our leaders. If we’ve got the time and inclination to put together perfect playlists, what’s stopping us from reconstructing gender identity or a new relationship with our environment? Okay, it’s a leap from things we pay for to things we think, but not as big as one would imagine. I’m hopeful that the newfound glimmers of free thought in our spending patterns may one day expand into our general world view. Is there an app for that yet?

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