Learn, make and share more
By Mohamed Ridza Wahiddin
It was some years ago when I got acquainted with citizen science, while waiting for my daughter to receive her degree scroll from the University of Sheffield.
Emeritus Professor William Leatherbarrow was conferred an honorary Doctor of Science degree then and was introduced as a well-respected authority on Slavic literature. Interestingly, he is also a noted amateur astronomer and was the president of the British Astronomical Association for the period 2011-2013.
Professor Leatherbarrow, in his acceptance speech, urged the audience to close the gap between two cultures with special reference to C. P. Snow’s book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution: literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other, scientists.
The Times Literary Supplement, in 2008, included the book in its list of the 100 books that most influenced Western public discourse since the Second World War.
Citizen science is the public involvement in inquiry and discovery of new scientific knowledge. The fields that it advances are diverse, including computer science, medicine and psychology. People not necessarily scientists, from different background and expertise, may contribute to projects that involve several to many individuals collaborating towards common goals.
Personalities like C. P. Snow and William Leatherbarrow have shown how to connect the dots, i.e. to benefit from the two cultures and innovate for the sake of humanity. So have Ibnu Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Biruni, and the list goes on.
Citizen science, crowd funding, open source, and Creative Commons licences are just a few examples of people getting together to learn more, make more and share more.
In order to drive home this point during the current Movement Control Order (MCO), I had the chance to learn from YouTube different ways of tying necktie knots. In fact, anyone with a little motivation may make some money by writing articles on HubPages or posting videos on YouTube teaching others his or her skill.
More importantly, consumers will be able to access freebies available on the Internet as a result of active peers learning more, making more and sharing more. This has a knock-on effect of reducing the costs of products. The portmanteau ‘prosumer’ comes from the words ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’. It was first coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book The Third Wave. It is about empowering the ordinary consumers and has the potential to revolutionise the sharing economy by active participation of consumers. It also means consumers are also producers.
Today, many of us are already prosumers because we benefit from the latest technologies. There is the case of the urban electricity ‘prosumer’, a consumer of electricity who also produces it and can sell it back to the grid, often through a rooftop solar photovoltaic system. For major cities in developing countries, these prosumers could be an essential ingredient in meeting the growing need for electricity.
Prosumerism and the media industry
Prosumerism is best described by how the media industry is today. The advent of social media has significantly increased the opportunities for the common people in cities and rural areas to create, distribute and profit from their innovative minds without going through the conventional media company.
Living proof includes the international and local celebrities: Justin Bieber, Najwa Latif and Naim Daniel. They started their careers after they were discovered through their videos in YouTube. These talented and passionate amateurs are prosumers, and it is not all about money! Many do not do these as a full-time profession. They do it out of love, perhaps to earn a small second income or to be recognised. And the best part is many of their contributions are made available for free.
Today, we can easily download free open source software, courseware and even hardware designs. Naturally, this has redefined the concept of sharing, and just like AirAsia’s famous tagline Now Everyone Can Fly, it may generate one like Now Everyone Can be a Prosumer.
All these are possible because of the introduction of the Internet of Things, 3D printers, Blockchain Technology and advanced Artificial Intelligence. A father-son team from Colorado, USA, is using Desktop 3D printers to showcase a much cheaper replica of the Lamborghini Aventador in a local big car show in August 2020.
In Malaysia, prosumerism is especially suited to rejuvenate our cottage industry. The main challenge of the middlemen will be addressed and eliminated.
In concluding, I personally prefer to promote prosumers instead of knowledge workers as drivers of the innovation economy. The word ‘worker’ will send a message that I am working for someone instead of consuming and producing innovative solutions for mankind.
Prosumerism, with the proper check and balance in place, also offers the light at the end of the tunnel to address unemployability. This is by closing the gap between the rich and the poor. It offers hope to especially liberate the B40 and the bottom billion to enjoy a better life and contribute meaningfully.
Professor Dr Mohamed Ridza Wahiddin, a theoretical physicist by training, is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM).