Willingly, if not eagerly, you sit in front of your computer, typing blog or bulletin board entries. Next, you move onto Youtube and watch some commercials recommended by your friends. At the end of the night, you go onto Digg’s website to look at the latest news stories. Sound familiar? Many of us spend hours a day on the computer, fueling a semi-authentic “internet addiction” in which we just can’t get enough. Did you ever think that this “internet addiction” could actually be a way in which Corporate America takes advantage of you yet again?
It’s true – BusinessWeek magazine’s Best and Worst of 2006 edition points out that according to Alvin and Heidi Toffler, our “internet addiction” is changing the economy. They even have a name for it – “prosuming” – in which we, the prosumer, make whatever we consume. If we want to share information about anything going on in the world, we write about in our blogs or on websites such as Associated Content. If we want entertainment, we film videos where we or our friends do embarrassing things. We choose which stories we want to see on websites such as Digg. It all seems innocent enough, as we are in control of what we add to the internet and when we add it. Even if we do indeed have an “internet addiction,” is there really an issue with this?
The Tofflers maintain that prosumers make up a free workforce for Corporate America to use. They theorize that someone else (i.e. big business) benefits when you contribute to any website for free and that this free labor will shift in how profits are made will change the economy forever. There certainly is no debate that large corporations have benefited from the internet and our use of it, but if we are prosumers, it is difficult to say that the work that we do for free can be considered as real labor. Labor is defined as “physical or mental exertion …. a specific task … work for wages,” and while you certainly are thinking while you surf the net, you also know that the outcome, unless you are providing content for a paid site such as Associated Content, will not result in any income for you.
If you do have an “internet addiction” and you spend hour upon hour completing surveys, contributing to bulletin boards and blogs, or watching commercials, it’s not clear that this can really be seen as work, even if someone else benefits, since most of us do this as a form of entertainment. Unlike work, it’s something that we enjoy and look forward to. And unlike many forms of entertainment, it’s free (well, relatively free once you get a computer and internet access). There is some sense of satisfaction that comes in being a prosumer and contributing to something that everyone can see, even if there is no money involved in the transaction – otherwise, people wouldn’t do it.
This is not to say that Corporate America isn’t benefiting from our prosumer activities. However, it’s not clear that they are completely at fault in fueling our “internet addiction” either. Why should we be paid to add our thoughts to a website if we would do so voluntarily without pay (from a business standpoint, it would make no sense)? If we are being taken advantage of because of our “internet addiction,” it certainly seems to be our own doing.