I’ve heard the world prosumer used a lot lately.

I’ve noticed that it has taken on two separate meanings.

The first meaning, coined by Alvin Toffler in his prophetic book, The Third Wave, is the merger between the notions of producer and consumer. Toffler envisioned the world we now live in where the consumer is participating in the production of customized products and services.

But there is a second meaning, that of products targeted between the low end consumer market and the high end professional market. You hear it most often used in products in the audio, photography, and video markets.

And then there is the more activist meaning, which simply takes Toffler’s meaning and extends it into a world where mass produced goods are bad and "do it yourself" is the mantra. We certainly have made a number of investments at Union Square Ventures which are based loosely on this theme, certainly Etsy and Bug Labs, but also to some extent delicious, FeedBurner, and Oddcast, play on the theme of consumers creating their own products and services.

Blogging is also an expression of the "do it yourself" mantra. Why rely on traditional mainstream media to inform, educate, and entertain when we can do it ourselves now?

The reason I am writing about this today is that I’ve been reading a bunch of essays that Jessica was assigned to read in her history class. One of them was from Horace Mann, written in 1848, and titled On Education and National Welfare. This is an amazing essay and one which you should read if you’ve never seen it before.

In his closing paragraph, Mann writes:

That political economy, therefore, which busies
itself about capital and labor, supply and demand, interests and rents,
favorable and unfavorable balances of trade, but leaves out of account
the elements of a wide-spread mental development, is naught but stupendous
folly. The greatest of all the arts in political economy is to change a
consumer into a producer;

I don’t know whether Toffler was inspired by Horace Mann or someone else in his conception of the prosumer, but I agree with both of them. We are into a new era where techonology and education have allowed the consumer to become the producer. It’s an important change in the forward progress of the human condition.

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