The idea of a consumer culture is so pervasive in our society that it generally is not seriously questioned in popular debate or political discourse. By “consumer culture” I mean the general notion that a small elite of creators with access to capital (what we in this country generally think of as “corporate America”) creates the innovations and corresponding goods that the rest of us buy, thereby keeping the economy humming along.
But what if this very concept is damaging us? What if it turns out that we are mis-educating millions of citizens from early childhood into a kind of learned helplessness? Advances in information technology are now making available to the individual tools for creation and innovation that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
A feature film with quite impressive special effects can be made on a total budget of $15000 (eg: the recent film Monsters), and a high quality 3D printer costing only a few thousand dollars can be used to prototype at home intricate mechanical parts that would until recently have required a professional machine shop.
It’s a new world out there, but our entire education system is still thinking in terms of churning out little consumers — passive recipients of innovations by the few. Somewhere in the world, people and their governments will soon realize that a revolution is afoot, and that the potential for increase of societal wealth and adaptivity is about to go through the roof.
I sure hope we don’t miss the revolution.