Overview



At the close of a century whose most famous utopia was communism, we enter a new time whose most common utopian dreams are now rooted in "dot com-munism." The material base of this utopian moment is cyberspace, the Internet and telematic technology. After service for decades as little more than an intranet for research university campuses, computer professionals, and defense labs, the Internet was discovered in the 1990s as another new frontier for corporate capitalism.1 In turn, the public service, community outreach, and national defense purposes of dot edu, dot gov, and the dot mil internet nodes have been swamped by the market imperatives of dot com buying and selling.

Consequently, one cannot easily divide the operations of the Internet today from the workings of the global market system.2 Digitalization has transformed different analogue systems of information into streams of ones and zeros. And these binary digits, or bits, make it possible to integrate many once separate physical and functional networks through operational protocols like the Net’s TCP/IP system. Once these information systems are integrated, the behaviors and values made possible by such systems can work more seamlessly. Therefore, small and big businesses alike are colonizing the interconnected networks of the Internet as their best available command, control, communication and intelligence system for 24x7 commerce.2

The transition from analogue to digital Fordism in the older manufacturing economy is an outstanding example of all these tendencies. In many ways, Ford Motor Company is the quintessential twentieth century firm whose national assembly line model of production for automobiles made the United States, and much of the world, what it is today through a concentrated cluster of revolutionary technological, social, and economic changes.3 Ford, however, wishes to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century and beyond, so it also has been in the vanguard of movements to informationalize its assembly lines, design studios, management centers, and consumer services since the 1960s. Moreover, its current president, William Clay Ford, Jr., sees information technologies as a key value-adding strategy in his plans to make Ford Motor a more ecologically rational and experientially rich provider of transportation in the coming decades.

This analysis will focus on the advent of digital Fordism to explore how the Internet is helping to transform capitalist exchange, industrial logistics, corporate ideology, and global environments. All technologies, of course, remediate the cultural currents preoccupying those who create and use them, and the pre-eminent credo of the past generation, as Schiller notes, has been an extraordinarily virulent strain of neoliberalism, which has sought to eliminate public regulation and control of business in favor of free markets.4 At the same time, however, the excesses of neoliberal theory and practice have sparked new forms of resistance among whose interests are rarely very salient in the market, including racial minorities, ethnic subcultures, religious faiths, women’s groups, and environmental concerns.5 If only to avoid new state intervention on the behalf of these groups, or to appear sensitive to such embedded preferences in markets, some businesses are responding to these social movements. Oddly enough, Ford Motor Company--whose corporate authoritarianism in the twentieth century was legendary--is one of them, so this analysis also will investigate how a new form of corporate ecology is converging with advanced informatics at Ford.

Finally, this study seeks to be aware of its analytical subject by leveraging some of the Net’s emerging functionalities in the textual apparatus itself. The Internet is transforming behavior in many spheres of action, but it also is reshaping larger social discourses about social behavior just as fundamentally. By freeing ideas from the static finality of print, this discursive experiment tests the dynamic contingencies of electronic hypertext. This study will be an unfinalized and open document with links outside to online supporting texts, invitations to add to its observations, and suggestions to keep its findings in motion with an open register for on-going arguments, growing archives, and continuing analyses. As version 1.0, it is unclear what will happen to the document, but the possibilities are as boundless as the discursive and epistemic communities that come to it as a source of insights. It could become a much more valuable resource for insights with some collective collaboration on its many layers of analysis. Hence, this research document seeks, first to problematize and test the salience of Fordism in contemporary everyday life as well as, second, to test and problematize the significance of existing research discourse, scholarly documents, and analytical text as they circulate in network environments.

As hypertext, one can collaborate here with the author(s) in a (non)sequential writing and reading of its hypertextualized discourse.7 The blocks of text, or "lexias," lead in and out many different documents, disclosures, and debates out on the Web. Some will call this experience an "e-book," but then automobiles were called "horseless carriages" for decades. As Landow notes, "in our culture the term book can refer to three very different entities--the object itself, the text, and the instantiation of a particular technology."8 Yet, there is no fixed object here, only bits read across networks on laptops, workstations or information appliances. The text is not finalized in print, even though it is read out in electronic type. And, the particular technologies of ink distilling, paper making, press running, page printing, book binding, book storing, book selling, and book reading are quite far removed from the infoscapes where this site exists. This text is a knot of knowledge nodes which readers virtually visit, moving off and back on through other links as they read/ create/ experience the (hyper) text. As Bolter suggests, this quality of alocationality, deferral or nonconreteness in electronic documents is what simultaneously removes and unites the writer and reader of hypertext: "is it on the screen, in the transistor memory, or on the disk?"9

These features of hypertext also should allow one to bridge many divides in theory and practice by experiencing more directly how digitalization reconfigures everything it captures, infiltrates or subsumes. Baudrillard asserts "digital is with us. It is that which haunts all the messages, all of signs of our societies."10 On one level, its protocols flow out of networks and then recreate production and consumption, as digital Fordism illustrates, to suit the functionalities of networked firms and economies. At the same time, on another level, its workings reshape communities of discourse by centering them on digital objects freed from analogue duration and/or physical location in more substantive/ serial/ sequential/ structural media, like print books, LP records, or scholarly journals. In digitalization, then, "cybernetic control" becomes "the new operational configuration" and "metaphysical principle" for fresh social epistemologies and ontologies to unfold in more spheres of life.11 This text studies these broader shifts in the larger economy and society, but it also seeks to leverage a few of these same digital technologies in order to test the existing limits of scholarly discourse, research documents, and intellectual debate.

Footnotes



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