Glad To Sell You The Power: Consumerism Meets Creativity

There’s no doubt we live in a consumer culture in America, and a good part of the Western (and Eastern) world. There’s plenty of things made, plenty to buy, and we do so beyond our basic needs. Obviously, not everyone is happy with this situation, as you can read . . . well anywhere. I myself, always a fan of technology and new things, am not thrilled with waste, passivity, and commodification.

However, at least in some spheres, I’m noticing there’s turns away from standard consumerism. There’s the DIY culture, and its offspring the Makers. There’s focus on simplicity and zero/low waste.

However, I noticed a curious phenomena building over time, one I’d like to discuss for it’s relevance in geeky careers and opportunities; we’re already getting “outbursts” of people wanting more control over what they do and more creative outlets – and people serving their needs by providing ways to do it.

You could always see people wanting to “do more” in our culture, and among geek culture. Fanficcers, cosplayers, etc. all took control of their interests and made their own creations. No one really targeted them beyond some websites and specific publications – it wasn’t as if Microsoft created Fanfiction For Word* or JoAnn Fabrics made the Cosplay Kit available in every store. The geek culture did it on their own.

Now fast forward to this time, where there’s growing interest in giving people the power to make their own stuff (and of course, make some cash at it). In the last few years we’ve seen an explosion of people selling “enabling” technologies that allow people to create. It’s not (usually) targeted at the geek crowd, though some of it has its origins there.

Just consider:

  • Publishing has Lulu, the Nook, Amazon/CreateSpace, and legions of smaller companies. Anyone can get published, as long as they have the drive or the cash.
  • Games have often included level creators over the years, and mods popped up here and there. Now mods are almost “normal”, games regularly include vast creative resources and provide tools, and one of the biggest unexpected hits, Minecraft, is basically a creation engine with a game snapped on. Steam has design tools available on its service. Gaming has a huge amount of empowerment.
  • Gaming also has the vast indie movement, which in turn has legions of tools, engines, and more behind it.
  • Apple is well known for empowering technologies, providing simple DVD burning, graphics tools, and more for years with their systems, and now their own authoring system to book.
  • There’s already print-on-demand games like GameCrafter

This is just what’s off the top of my head in a fevered bout of column-writing. I’m doubtlessly missing a lot. There’s a lot you could fill in (or write about . . .)

We’re in an age where people are providing consumers with the ability to be creators, and making money at it. Or we’ve commodified creation, which kind of becomes a weird mobius oroborous of economics that someone should really write up as a grad school thesis**.

This of course doesn’t mean things are worth buying or downloading just because someone made it independently; you can be a creative free spirit and your work can still suck so bad the oxygen level of the room drops. But it does mean that we’ve had a surprising outburst of technology that semi-reverses consumerism by letting people create – and people embrace it.

From this I get a few takeaways:

  1. People want to be able to create and do things. That’s pretty obvious, but it’s nice to see it recognized. Bringing this out could in turn create cultural changes.
  2. In turn, there’s a market or perceived market advantage to providing people the ability to create things. Therefore there are services being provided and interest in providing them.
  3. This changes the consumer/creator relationship by strongly blurring lines, and I think we can expect this to occur more and more. It’s implications need to be studied.
  4. These blurred lines and changes can open up other opportunities.
  5. In short, in this odd time of consumer/creator fusion, I think we’re seeing something to pay attention to.

It really is an odd time, when Amazon will sell you used DVDs, new books, and a copy of your own book. It’s strange to see game mods become almost expected, where games are almost operating systems of content.

These are times where we, the pro geeks, also need to pay attention:

  1. If you provide a service that enables some form of creativity, it may well be your time – but it’s also a new time so I don’t think the book is written on the “right” way to do things.
  2. If you have a service that could include a creative component, you might want to add it – it will be expected.
  3. Issues of control, ownership, and originality will complicated by this “consumerization of creativity.” Geek Lawyers, get to it.
  4. There’s also an unprecedented time for people to hone, use, and apply their skills. I can easily see this producing socio-cultural divisions that can be quite intense. I know self-publishing alone makes people treat me differently – and frankly I view people in a different light having done it.
  5. In turn due to the ability to just plain do stuff, it might well become culturally or professionally accepted and encouraged (in gaming, this has been around for awhile). I can see a time where “why didn’t you self-publish” or “why didn’t you blog” and so on become legitimate career questions.
  6. This changes the idea of work-for-pay further (look at how Open Source did that already) since people can use technology to let them do things that would normally be careers – and do them part-time or casually.

An age of mass manufactured devices allowing you to craft your own books, mass distributed games that let you build your own games, and printers that make real objects. A very interesting time to live in, and one w’re going to have to adapt to.

There have been times where empowering technologies have changed things, but not where it’s been tied to a strong consumer culture. Time to adapt and watch . . .

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at

* I can see Clippy now “I see you’re trying to write a Slashfic . . .”
** This is a hint, by the way.