The People Formerly Known as Consumers


I have been noticing a lot of back and forth between farmers and non-farmers on Twitter and this statement by @follownathan really caught my attention. He says, "I am growing very tired of hearing the word "consumer" It's a design for a disconnect #ag4all #agchat #food"

Nathan rode his bike across the country learning about and telling the stories of the farms and farmers he encountered along the way. But he has discovered in the process that his input on farming has not always been welcome. He has expressed often that he is dismissed as a "consumer" in conversations about agriculture. I have felt some of the same tensions in my conversations with farmers.

His comment reminded me of sentiments expressed in an article by Jay Rosen from 2006 titled, "The People Formerly Known as the Audience." In describing a rapidly changing media landscape where the audience no longer stands by passively he says;

The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.

Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were...

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

It really is amazing how dramatically things have shifted when it comes to media. I'm just a lowly local blogger but in a strange twist of Google economics my blog post about your business just might be considered more important than your business' web site. My 7 year old daughter just published her first book on Blurb. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for stock photography I can go to stock exchange and find it for free. And not only that, I'm even willing to upload my own stock photo library and let you use it for free. It's been a crazy time of upheaval in media. The audience is now the performer and the performer is the audience.

I wonder if it isn't time for an article titled, "The People Formerly Known as Consumers." Could it be that the same dynamics that have turned upside down the media landscape are also at work in the world of food and consumption? Is it possible that the free flow of information and opinion is overturning the old consumer producer/farmer relationship? Are we entering a time where awareness has grown enough to say that we're all farmers now, even if that isn't our vocation. I don't make a living as a photographer, or a journalist, or a food critic, or a publisher but I am all those things. I am a consumer...but I'm also a farmer.

The people formerly known as consumers are no longer content to stand by passively in the midst of our food systems and consumer lives.

To be continued...