Wednesday, November 25, 2009

applying the chandlerian model today - the internet age and changing economic institutions

I found this article after skipping off a few links that originated from a BoingBoing post on contemporary media. The thesis presented here is not new. Alfred Chandler's work on the rise of big business (in which he explains several of the consequences of industrialization mentioned in the article, including centralized products, big companies, and mass marketing) places primary emphasis for this change in the rise of integrated transportation and communication networks. Specifically, after the Civil War, railroads played a very important part in providing the markets necessary for large enterprise. Improved communication also allowed information concerning supply chains and prices to spread more quickly and across a wider area, fostering firm growth.

The author of the article is extending Chandler's model to the rise of the internet by asking, what kind of production structure will arise out of the arguably more decentralized market that is the internet? One of the most interesting implications which he or she outlines is, "work life integration", questioning whether "Not only will more people work from home, but personal life will also permeate more traditional offices through IM, e-mail, and other communication forms. Conversely, people will never really leave work, because mobile technology will let them take their offices wherever they go."

Certainly this idea is more reminiscent of the artisan shops of pre-19th century production (and also of grad school!!!), and I wonder to what extent this can become a part of the internet age. Can we combine the gains we've made in productivity over the last few centuries with a more "humane" understanding of work? I think that the rise of open source software and alternative forms of copyright law that have gained prominence in this digital age show signs of the Chandlerian model emerging in this period: specifically, the influence of new forms of communication and transportation technology (the latter taken in a much more broad sense now in order to consider uploading/downloading as a form of 'digital transportation') on the organization of production. The question is how far this institutional model can take us in revolutionizing the economy.

What do you think?


  1. omfg, blogspot just killed a massive comment that i had partially written.

    to summarize: i don't know how typical my experiences are, but i've always found lawyers to have an extremely permeable work/life barrier, due to a lot of factors, some of which include the digitalization of legal research, which allows it to be conducted anywhere with an internet connection, not just in law libraries and some court developments, namely federal electronic filing. there are more court developments coming, involving electronic appearance by some types of witnesses that are really going to crack open the idea of what it means to "be present" for a proceeding. but lawyers have always moved slowly behind the tide of technological innovation. our job description requires us to be risk-adverse :)

    also, i found the comments about having items custom made more telling of a return to pre-industrial revolution artisan crafting that the work/life separation thing. it's not just greeting cards; you can have most vendors on etsy custom craft anything you can imagine and there are websites dedicated to custom tailoring suits (for men and women), dress shirts, jeans and boots to the specific measurements of the customer. that's a level of tailoring and individual detail that used to cost hundreds of dollars (and still does, in independent brick and mortar stores) and which is now available for prices that are competative with ready-to-wear clothing in pre-made sizes.

    but can i also tell you, i finally got a ds lite. it's totally insane. I'M going insane -- with *awesomeness*.

  2. the ds lite is really exciting stuff. you should try to get some pics taken, fool around with them and upload them to fb.

    the reason i singled out the work/life separation thing is mostly because it reminded me of one of my favorite econ history papers of all time by an historian named e.p. thompson who traces through various primary sources and cultural documents how the notion of time and the *control* of time began to be altered by the development of industrial capitalism. it's a seriously COOL paper that everyone should read.

    lawyers are probably some kind of outlier in this model, as they are generally insane about work to begin with (rightly so, of course). i do think the same exists for grad students, especially nowadays with how quickly one can search for papers and read journals, etc.

  3. i have no idea why i should take pics of the ds? or why they need to be fooled around with? go read my journal, there's a long post about it up there.

    the control of time reminds me of a lot of the unionization slogans -- 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for leisure. unions brought us the weekend. etc. this also makes me think of a lot of the cases i read in employment law about privacy rights of employees on the job (almost none) and the ability of employers to monitor closely how worktime is spent (almost unlimited).

    and i probably didn't make it clear since i was pissed about my comment getting eaten, but lawyers have traditionally been viewed as people who can't walk away from their work BUT i've found that the office has always been pretty permeable for personal stuff too. including spouses, children and dogs all showing up at the office during the business day and time being flexibly allocated with minimal problems for staff attorneys who needed personal time. there was never any view that it was "inappropriate" (from co-workers or from management) for someone to need to move their schedule around to accommodate their kids' school schedule or whatever. taking personal calls at work has also been viewed as appropriate.

    but you're right, lawyers are outliers -- for a lot of reasons but also probably because the profession of lawyering didn't change a whole lot with the industrial revolution -- arguably. the law school model began in the late 1800s where before you became a lawyer by apprenticeship, which i guess might be seen as a change attributable to the industrial revolution, but probably not directly.

  4. one feature of the ds lite is that you can take pics and do weird things with them, and there's an app or something that allows easy uploads to facebook.

    take pics of your rats and give them sunglasses or something :P

  5. ooh, no, that's the dsi. i have the second generation of the original ds lite without a camera. sorry to disappoint, no rats in sunglasses for you!

  6. I guess my brain just wanted to read "DSi" since that's the one I thought you were originally thinking about getting. DS lite is definitely the smart choice! I don't think the extra features of the DSi are worth the extra money. I have a DS lite, have had one for almost 4 years now, and love it!

    You could still put real life sunglasses on them and take pics :P

  7. i think i was just looking at all of the available models and price shopping. but i agree, the extra features of the dsi seemed pretty redundant. you'll have to give me some game reqs :)

    believe me, the likelihood of a rat holding still long enough for me to put on sunglasses and take a picture is nada. i guess i could photoshop in sunglasses after taking regular pictures!