The power of the consumer in a digital world

Insight

Carl Miller’s recently published book ‘The Death of the Gods’ explores a single idea – power.

Miller investigates power in today’s society where a single Tweet can bring down entire organisations; a society where the internet enables cybercrime to account for more than half of all crime in the UK.

There’s a lot in Miller’s book that makes you want to shut down your social media accounts and throw away your smartphone because the shift in power dynamics in a digital age is scary. But it’s not all to the detriment of the individual.

Being part of the digital world today gives people the power to help change the parts of this world that they aren’t content with. It gives people a voice and big corporations are taking notice because they don’t have any other choice.

Power play in action

We can see this new power dynamic in play as part of the war on plastic. Every year around eight billion kilograms of plastic enters the ocean. We’ve become somewhat accustomed to seeing images of marine life and birds that have been entrapped or killed by plastic.

But that is no longer something that consumers are willing to accept. With the help of digital technology like social media and online petitions we’ve seen individuals come together to act as one voice to tell big corporations that production of single-use plastic is not okay. And they have effected real-world change.

Look at the two major Australian supermarkets: Woolworths and Coles. After years of encouragement from the public, both chose to ban plastic bags in June 2018. Some people were ecstatic and others outraged. New petitions emerged calling for the bag ban to be reversed. The public pressure was so strong that Coles backed down and announced that they would hand out plastic bags for free for the foreseeable future.

After further online backlash on the backflip, Coles announced that their thicker plastic bags would be sold for 15c each as per their original plan.

Just last month, the supermarkets divided the public again with their newest round of shopping incentives, Woolworths’ Ooshies and Coles Little Shop 2. People were angry that the supermarkets were again encouraging single-use plastic consumption with many pointing out that Coles had launched their new collection in the middle of Plastic Free July.

Shoppers once again went online to express their disappointment, with some going as far as threatening to boycott the supermarkets until they stopped producing these single-use plastic toys. Woolworths heard the concerns and has since announced an environmentally friendly promotion, Discovery Garden, which will be available in September.

Power to the consumer

We can’t say that none of the above would’ve happened eventually without the internet. What we can say is that without a digital world, consumers would not have had the power to evoke change on the scale that they did. Consumers have a voice and they won’t accept the world as they know it if they don’t want to. And that’s something we all need to remember.