The most pessimistic and optimistic scholars agree about that. Among the first, Luciano Gallino (2015) portrays a double, interconnected crisis of capitalist hyper-consumerism and the ecosystem, which involves all citizens, the few super rich and the many poor, consumers and producers, all heavily affected by economic stagnation and the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Therefore, a crisis caused specifically by a series of mistaken financial policy choices. The material and immaterial costs of the growing inequality can only be contained with a radical change in the economic model: the rich, in their interests, should support policies aimed at re-establishing a fairer allocation of resources to stimulate both the labor market and consumption (Stiglitz 2015).
A more optimistic vision places emphasis on the innovative contribution of the young generations, their technologies, and their values.
With the advent of Web 2.0 in the first years of the new millennium and the development of social media, the tendency of youngsters to share rather than own represents a turning point, opening in a correlated way to the sharing economy and collaborative consumption, often combined in evident forms of prosumption. Obviously, the engagement of consumers had no hope without the involvement of the production side.
According to Jeremy Rifkin (2014), the present crisis is, indeed, the last stand of the “second industrial revolution”, based on the increased consumption of carbon and fossil fuels, the perceptible decline of which moves important segments of the workforce to the new opportunities of the “third industrial revolution”. Rifkin (2014) invites us to surrender to the evidence of a new era of abundance marked by the Internet of Things (IoT), an interconnected network of energy, communications and infrastructures that boosts productivity, eliminates intermediation and heavily reduces costs. Basically, it destroys in many sectors the foundations of the capitalist system including private property, in favour of a hybrid economy, part market and part community or socially oriented. The new regime of the “Collaborative/Creative Commons” at least partially involves hundreds of millions of people who self-produce and pass on at more or less no cost to others, information, energy and objects; who share or swap cars, clothes and homes; who finance their initiatives through crowdfunding instead of using banks, etc. The way out of a self-destructive unsustainable system is actually sobriety and sharing, and it seems to be in the hands of this generation of youngsters who know how to appropriately exploit collaborative media such as blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (Rifkin 2014).
While Rifkin’s analysis places emphasis on the contribution of digitization to the development of prosumption, other authors (Gauntlett 2011, Luckman 2015, Anderson 2012) highlight another characteristic of prosumers: passion for craftsmanship. The Makers, who in their Fablabs print in 3D, producing on demand for themselves and for few, but in the global world, sharing spaces, machines and knowledge, seem to be the typical synthesis of these two tendencies. Creativity is an ethical, political and life choice for them, in which the process is more gratifying than the results (Gauntlett 2011). As standard-bearers of that persistent culture of doing that does not oppose thought and technology, or the individual to the community, they are undoubtedly prosumers .
In addition to this innovative concept of Making, there are other situations where the technology used is more traditional or even preindustrial, as it was for the 1970’s prosumers. Large platforms like Etsy, though, make the return to artisanship a profitable venture.
In both the cases of 3D printing and more traditional craftsmanship, the possibility of direct selling opens another way to liberating work from the condemnation of alienation. George Ritzer (2013) advances the hypothesis that, even if we all are (have always been) prosumers, albeit with different levels of involvement on the two extremes of economic value creation and, above all, with different reflexive capacity, contemporary prosumption promises to sweep away the ghost of alienation not only from work but also from consumption, where the protagonists are gradually finding creative space and shared awareness for their personal and social choices.
Actually, an important element of contemporary craftsmanship is “craft consumption” (Campbell 2005), the widespread practice of personalising purchased material things, for example food, clothes, furniture, or expressing their identity through cooking or gardening. We can deem it a summary not only of the aesthetic reappropriation of consumption, but also of its ethical shift in the direction of sustainability: “craft as ethical consumption” (Luckman 2015: 70).
Indeed, the “craft creative economy”, according to Susan Luckman (2015), narrows the border between craft consumption and craft production. We can almost talk of an inclusive craft prosumption without barriers. If, until a short time ago, gender and social class established clear dividing lines between female craftsmanship, linked to saving and re-using, and male craftsmanship as an even costly leisure pursuit, the division is less clear today and the homemade production of articles, from food to textiles, for oneself, family, friends and selected clients, is often considered a popular niche market. Specific platforms and social media not only distribute the product on the market but also support true online communities. (Luckman 2015). The new frontier of creativity involves production and consumption together, prefers small scale activities and manageable networks that leave space for a continuous redefinition of personal and social objectives.
Two relatively young but well- connected elites appear to be able to handle this process, though leading it towards opposite directions. Gustavo Cardoso and Pedro Jacobetty (2012) portray one elite looking back to the past, focused on the conservation of the privilege of financial capital and led by a culture of “networked self-interest”, and the other that pushes for change and new values, for a “networked belonging” that envisages an inclusive way of aggregating interests. The leaders of the latter elite, often IT professionals who did not find work in the regular job market due to the financial crisis, are often the protagonists of various sharing experiences in work, entertainment and social participation, creating “social networking cultures…by combining the mediated environment and non-mediated experience in networks of relationships” (Cardoso and Jacobetty 2012: 200), in fact very innovative paths chosen to get a more sustainable way of life.
Many evident examples of prosumption show the coincidence between personal lifetime plans and a social and political proposal that calls into question the causal connection productionconsumption. The web generation often refuses to work to buy and possess, as they are used to valuing the access. They work differently and work to change things (Belk 2007; Bovone -Lunghi 2020).