Are We in a Post-Consumer Age? How E-Commerce is Blurring the Lines Between Creator and Consumer?
Keynote speaker Kevin Slavin set the tone for the panel discussion that followed with an intriguing talk about the way in which our society has been embedded with nostalgia. From the time of Swiss mercenaries “dying” of homesickness when they went off to war, to the scrap books - “silva rerum” or “forest of things” that families kept in the 17th-18th centuries, we are obsessed with the collective desire to record. Thanks to technology now, we are actually capable of doing so with extreme accuracy. More and more software is being created to enable us to do so, but what does it mean to “outsource our memories to machines”? The premise of Facebook itself is declarative. We actively log our information, creating a sense of a thread linking the past with the present when in fact no thread actually exists in reality.
Members of the panel included the creative director from Etsy, one of the founders of Fab.com, the CEO of Co.design and the CEO from Shapeways.
They discussed how we are moving from a culture of mass manufacturing where we need to produce as many things as possible, to one in which we can now be involved in the product. This is thanks to technology, and this shift is occurring especially now as social media is exploding onto the scene. Artisan based craft sites like Etsy help us rediscover the values of the goods that we buy and consumers in turn are becoming more selective about their purchases - equaling less waste. This encourages designers to think of the durability of their products, and induces consumers to share the “story” behind the product’s past. Values are being brought into play since products are produced locally.
What is imperative to this transition is the social layer in which consumers can share these “stories” online. This is exactly what Etsy, Facebook, Pinterest etc… are offering – the room for more narrative. A great product needs to be placed in context with its peers and these social networking sites fill that need. They also discussed the social aspects of “curation” and how we are seeing the rise of a new class of tastemakers. A democratization of design is occurring in which design is not simply being kept in a box for the elite to enjoy. Everything is being shared which also leads to a cycle in which products are being constantly improved since producers are receiving more feedback.
They did get into a polite yet heated argument about whether this sort of emotional story based design is sustainable. Cliff Kuang of Co.Design made a good point saying how we don’t actually have the room in our lives to care about each item. We don’t need to know the story behind the wrench we bought, that’s what sites like Amazon are good for. Also, as sites like Etsy become more and more popular, how can a seller possibly keep up that same level of intimacy with their clients if they receive an order for say - thousand throw pillows? Kuang brought up the difference between Europeans and Americans in their consumption patterns. Middle class Americans are more likely to buy an Ikea chair that will last four years, whereas a middle class Norwegian will spend more on a handcrafted heirloom chair that lasts forever. “You do less with better”.
Thanks to technology in which we connect and share, we are becoming more aware of these values. “Let’s live with the things you keep and pass on” said Bradford Shellhammer of Fab.com.
Does this mean we seeing the beginnings of a new definition of materialism?
Shapeways is part of a movement away from mass production towards a more complex interaction between people and products. No longer are we all passive consumers of bulk products be they digital, physical or even edible as we begin to create, customize and curate the contents of our lives.