Monday, March 14, 2011

The Fundamentals of Industrial Ideologies: Synchronization

The Third Wave, A. Toffler

The widening split between production and consumption also forced a change in the way Second Wave people dealt with time. In a market-dependent system, whether the market is planned or free, time equals money. Expensive machines cannot be allowed to sit idly, and they operate at rhythms of their own. This produced the third principle of industrial civilization: synchronization.

Even in the earliest societies work had to be carefully organized in time. Warriors often had to work in unison to trap their prey. Fishermen had to coordinate their efforts in rowing or hauling in the nets. George Thomson, many years ago, showed how various work songs reflected the requirements of labor. [..] Until the Second Wave brought in machinery and silenced the songs of the worker, most such synchronization of effort was organic or natural. It flowed from the rhythm of the seasons and from biological processes, from the earth's rotation and the beat of the heart. Second Wave societies, by contrast, moved to the beat of the machine.

As factory production spread, the high cost of machinery and the close interdependence of labor required a much more refined synchronization. If one group of workers in a plant was late in completing a task, others down the line would be further delayed. Thus punctuality, never very important in agricultural communities, became a social necessity, and clocks and watches began to proliferate. By the 1790's they were already becoming commonplace in Britain. Their diffusion came, in the words of British historian E. P. Thompson, "at the exact moment when the industrial revolution demanded a greater synchronization of labor."

Not by coincidence, children in industrial cultures were taught to tell time at an early age. Pupils were conditioned to arrive at school when the bell rang so that later on they would arrive reliably at the factory or office when the whistle blew. Jobs were timed and split into sequences measured in fractions of a second. "Nine-to-five" formed the temporal frame for millions of workers.

Nor was it only working life that was synchronized. In all Second Wave societies, regardless of profit or political considerations, social life, too, became clock-driven and adapted to machine requirements. Certain hours were set aside for leisure. Standard-length vacations, holidays, or coffee breaks were interspersed with the work schedules.

Children began and ended the school year at uniform times. Hospitals woke all their patients for breakfast simultaneously. Transport systems staggered under rush hours. Broadcasters fitted entertainment into special time slots— "prime time," for example. Every business had its own peak hours or seasons, synchronized with those of its suppliers and distributors. Specialists in synchronization arose—from factory expediters and schedulers to traffic police and tune-study men.

By contrast, some people resisted the new industrial time system. And here again sexual differences arose. Those who participated in Second Wave work—chiefly men—became the most conditioned to clock-time.

Second Wave husbands continually complained that their wives kept them waiting, that they had no regard for time, that it took them forever to dress, that they were always late for appointments. Women, primarily engaged in noninterde-pendent housework, worked to less mechanical rhythms. For similar reasons urban populations tended to look down upon rural folk as slow and unreliable. "They don't show up on time! You never know whether they'll keep an appointment." Such complaints could be traced directly to the difference between Second Wave work based on heightened interdependence and the First Wave work centered in the field and the home.

Once the Second Wave became dominant even the most intimate routines of life were locked into the industrial pacing system. In the United States and the Soviet Union, in Singapore and Sweden, in France and Denmark, Germany and Japan, families arose as one, ate at the same time, commuted, worked, returned home, went to bed, slept, and even made love more or less in unison as the entire civilization, in addition to standardization and specialization, applied the principle of synchronization.