Tuesday, February 1, 2011

20th Century 20 - 11

Fire buckets have been around since there have been buckets.


The first assembly line? Great Britain. In the 1700s.

But it was Henry Ford who created the automated assembly line. And minimum wage. And the V8.

The modern vision of a factory is miles away from Lowell, Massachusetts. We think of robotic arms and conveyor belts. Often they are building imaginary cars. Ford, in reality, created the world's most popular single car, the Model T, which at one point comprised half of the world's auto industry.

Apparently he wasn't a pleasant person. Nor was his management of Ford particularly adept, as he suffered from paternalism. Ford's assembly line, though, made the 20th century so very monotonous. Like his “any color so long as it's black” theory of cars, an assembly line can produce neither innovation or change. When they do it is a breakdown in the system, and the product is a mutant or defective.

Hundreds of students have been asked by me to empty their pockets. I ask them to do this to show that the stuff, seemingly individual, that they carry around is all mass-produced, replicas indistinguishable from millions of others. Nearly everything we interact with in the day is a replica, an assembly line copy.

The precise stuff of the world, like Ford's cars in the first quarter of the century, can't be one-off affairs. Cars had been made that way for decades, and weren't getting anywhere fast. In 1900 the bicycle was also relatively new, and the subject of amazement at how fast and freeing it was. Only when Ford made minimum wage a reality, and tried to grow the middle class would the car be an acceptable alternative to the bike.

As the riddle goes: "Who has the largest room in the house? Who is always full, never left hungry?" The car.

Why do you go to work? To make money. What do you spend it on? Maintaining your car. What does it do? Take you to work.

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