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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Does Individual Empowerment Risk a Social Void?


Oikonomics makes the excellent observation that "We consume not to conform and be like (or liked) but to be different and thereby feel that in some small way we are in control of our lives...However," he warns us that "instead of pulling together we begin to pull in our own individual direction leaving a void in the social world that needs to be filled if we are going to meet the collective challenges of the sustainability of our way of life."

I agree that control over one's life is the motivation for consumption, but I believe this enhances, rather than undermines, our ability to meet the collective challenges of sustainability.

I agree that (except for fads/crazes like yo-yo's or cabbage patch dolls), we really only consume what is useful in solving/controlling a real problem, and the trend is towards more personalised solutions. The challenge for product providers is how to facilitate that desire in a highly flexible, adaptable, bottom-up way, rather than dictate how it can be satisfied in a top-down, one-size-fits-all fashion. Brands need to be facilitators, not institutions.

I agree that this trend represents a growing 'void', but only to the extent that one size no longer fits all. We no longer share the same TV schedule. We don't all have the same experience of any web-based service that dynamically serves its home page to each user. We've unbundled our travel and music. Our computers and smartphones are each differently configured with different 'apps' [who ever thought 'apps' would end up a retail marketing term?!]. Each social network service 'feed' is unique. We are ignoring traditional, formal politics and congregating around single interest campaigns and informal deliberative processes.

And I agree that this growing diffusion of consumer experience is undermining the sustainability of our [current] way of life. In fact the tools that are enabling this trend, unleashing our ability to escape the institutional view of the world, have been a catalyst for the bottom-up realisation that the way of life preached by our institutions has become unsustainable.

Yet, for all these reasons, I must disagree that the utter diffusion of consumer experience risks creating a social void that threatens our ability to meet the collective challenges of sustainability. If anything, the trend has put us in a far better position to face those challenges in a concerted fashion than ever before.

Discuss ;-)
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