Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you a Consumer? Are you a Producer?

 Photo by PressPhoto

I hear the word consumer used a lot, as a measure of personal and collective financial health. We live in a consumer culture. We read Consumer Reports. We measure various consumer statistics to determine the health of our economy. When consumer spending goes up, we feel better, because we think we are richer.

What does the word consumer mean? Literally, to consume means to eat. According to Mirriam Webster Dictionary, the word is derived from Latin consumere, which means to take.

Consume has various meanings:
  1. to do away with completely, to destroy (fire consumes buildings)
  2. to spend wastefully, squander, use up (time-consuming)
  3. to eat or drink especially in great quantity, to enjoy avidly, devour (consumed a feast)
  4. to engage fully (consumed with curiosity)
  5. to utilize as a customer (consumer goods)

We are all consumers. We are constantly making exchanges with others. We exchange money for time, services, things.

I believe there is an over-emphasis on the word consumer. There is an imbalance, because we don't often hear the word producer.

So what's a producer? According to Mirriam Webster Dictionary, producer also has various meanings:
  1. one that produces; especially one that grows agricultural products or manufactures crude materials into articles of use
  2. a person who supervises or finances a work for exhibition or dissemination to the public (like a movie producer)
  3. an autotrophic organism (as a green plant) viewed as a source of biomas that can be consumed by other organisms
So the producer grows the food source, or in the case of the green plant, it is the actual food source, that will be consumed.

I think a producer is a maker, a grower, a creator. Someone who can take raw materials and make useful things out of them. Someone who can generate, invent, improve, craft, cook. A producer uses hard work and wizardry to make something that wasn't there before.

What if we valued producers as much as we value consumers? What if we talk about producer culture, and read Producer Reports? What if we use production quality and numbers as a measure of abundance in our lives? What if we identify ourselves as producers, as much as we identify ourselves as consumers?

 African Christmas beads and charms
jewelry by Rosa Phoenix

A few years ago I decided that I want to produce more than I consume. I realized that being a consumer is time-consuming, and also money-consuming.

I opted out of a lot of things I used to consume regularly: movies, TV, books, magazines, a lot of entertainment and pop culture. After taking in so many images, stories, ideas that had been produced by others for my consumption, I grew full. I needed to go on a fast for awhile.

I want to be a producer of ideas and art. So instead of using my time to consume, I use that time to produce.

Of course we are all consumers and producers. I want to find a healthy balance between producing and consuming. I want to create as much as I consume.

I recently went to MakerFaire for the first time. I was happy to find an event that was more about producing, than consuming. It wasn't so much about buying things. The things for sale were materials, kits and how-to books. Lots more people were making things, than buying things. Ideas are free.

How do you feel about being a consumer? How about being a producer?


  1. Hi Rosa, why do you seperate between being a consumer and being a producer? Aren't we all part of the concept of a 'pro-sumer'?
    I'm currently writing my dissertation about a so called 'new consumer culture'. Would be great, if you support me and fill out my short survey: Maybe that will give some answers. Thanks, Lena

  2. Lena, thanks for your thoughts! actually this is the first time I've heard of pro-sumer. I like it. Your research sounds interesting. more food for thought :)

  3. thoughtful post. i'd like to think that what goes for individuals also goes for societies.

  4. Thanks for joining the discussion Stef.

    prosumer on wikipedia:

  5. Excellent post! When I was much younger I was certainly a consumer but somehow priorities have shifted and I truly believe that "the best things in life are not things" I strive to produce and share good vibes with those around me :0) Have a beautiful day XO

  6. Alina, thanks for your thoughts.

    Very well said!

    I can definitely see the love and caring that you put into your art, writing, blog and garden. That may be the most important ingredient in production.

    That's the difference between unique hand-crafted products/art and factory-made, mass-market goods.

    This care is what I seek, both as a producer and as a consumer.

  7. Good point about the difference between consumer and producer. I have a great respect for the producer who can create such wonderful work.

  8. Welcome Paul! Thanks for your feedback.

    I learned a lot thru researching and writing this post, and from everyone who responded with comments.

    To everyone:

    Any more thoughts on this topic? I love comments!

  9. Following up ...

    another interesting article I came across on the same topic: