Generally in history we’ve only really had two means of production. Mass production, which I would say is an industrial scale, highly engineered enterprise and personalized production, like artisan crafts and bespoke or commissioned works. Recently there has been the emergence of a new thought to production: Mass Customization. Mass Customization is primarily an artifact of the computer era and the PC revolution is really the driving force behind this new thought to production. In the past, it simply was too much time and energy to cater to every customer’s whims, but with a free flow of information it is practically a necessity for businesses to survive. One strange iteration of Mass customization is our recent spats with filter bubbles. Essentially, Google can reach huge groups (the “Mass”) but tailor each consumer’s searches based on their previous searches and recommended content (Customization). While in this example we have yet to see how Mass Customization plays out, other economies (Gig, App, other Digital economies primarily) are already taking advantage of MC to become formidable competitors to established markets.
So how does MC induce a paradigm shift in our way of thinking about capitalism? Think of these two things:
“This is why so many of the best programmers are libertarians…When those far removed from the creation of wealth– undergraduates, reporters, politicians– hear that the richest 5% of the people have half the total wealth, they tend to think injustice! An experienced programmer would be more likely to think is that all? The top 5% of programmers probably write 99% of the good software.” – Paul Graham, founder of startup accelerator Y Combinator
“The problem with capitalism is not too many capitalists, but not enough capitalists.” – G. K. Chesterton
Graham is basically saying that wealth is generated disproportionately, presumably by capitalists as he himself is one. Chesterton is saying we need more, because otherwise we lead to a concentration of wealth which we call inequality (my interpretation, at least). This is why I think the computer era is so interesting – the computer is our means of production. I am producing content right now, as can anyone who can afford a computer. A computer isn’t necessarily cheap, but it is in the means of the American middle class and thus is a distributed MoP. Could we extend this to meatspace? As in, have means of production affordable for at least the middle class?
I think that was partially the hope with 3D printers and Makerspaces, creating distributed means of production. Not that either of the two are without their own respective problems. All of this goes against my last post about limiting growth. 3D Printers are limited in terms of volume, material and resolution. Makerspaces still only really operate at that personalized production level. But creating a space that promotes Mass Customization empowers a locality and feeds well into my previous notions of appropriate technology and the current trend towards local goods.
“But rando-off-the-web, manufacturing is a technical field that the general population won’t easily adapt to, with far too much specialization to connect to the marketplace” Ok, scarecrow argument, but so is computing. Or at least, it was, until GUIs and computer mouses and all sorts of innovations made the specialized equipment user-friendly. Why couldn’t a general, all-purpose manufacturing cell be compartmentalized and made for public use?