As it enters the twenty first century, Fordism remains an authoritarian system of factory production, only now it extends its production lines into an extended kineformative network of outsourcers. Consequently, Ford plants are no longer "gigantic concentration camps founded on fear and physical assault" as they were under Model T Fordism or multiple shift "speed up " centers tied to increasing automation as they were under Model A...Z Fordism.1 Rather they are points of convergence for automotive components whose style, quality, and durability are determined in accord with focus group findings, elaborate psychodemographic profiling, and national market analyses.
Digital Fordism demonstrates how completely moving most, if not all, of any particular public's system-controlling, purchase-making, money-managing, wealth-generating or organization-operating functions into digital networks--especially into the insecure, open, and free domains of the Internet--can transform many things rapidly, and dangerously by dematerializing, and depersonalizing the manner in which everyday social production, reproduction, circulation, and exchange is realized. Because it no longer occurs in what once was secure national time and space, workers are losing most of the limited protections that have been won by militant action in the past. Like the monetization and mechanization of labor during the Industrial Revolution, the digitalization of management and virtualization of production in today's Informational Revolution are changing almost every quality of everyday life. Face-to-face interactions between persons become online events with digital beings. Physical systems with well-proven redundancies, proven safeguards, and fixed practices are supplanted by unstable clusters of code in fragile virtual organizations. Locatable material sites in real space under identifiable, albeit perhaps not effective, governmental control are displaced by cyberspatial addresses under very little or no governmental oversight.
The Net provides both old and new social forces with alternative modes of action and types of artifacts to organize cultural interactions, institutionalize political movements, and advance economic demands on a deterritorialized, transnational basis in 24x7 timeframes. Its virtual structures are new operational venues whose assignment, maintenance, and use also generate a new governance challenge: how to create, border, police, and maange such virtual spaces. Many agencies of governmentality, like FoMoCo in this new era of Model E production, must preoccupy themselves with finding new means to control the conduct of conduct by tracking digital e-haviors out in the network's virtual spaces of exchange. Once, many could pretend the offline involvements of people with family, community and nation--as public interests--mostly guided their civic conduct. At this juncture, however, today's growing Internet economies and societies are being accepted as another e-public ground to normalize any individual's behavior. Cybernetic domains are metanational spaces under a very special kind of subnational self-policing whose supervision is fulfilled mostly in the free deterritorialized flight of deterritorialized packet switching.
Of course, FoMoCo accepts that a global era of informatic prosperity, which may loom ahead for many workers around the world, will not be possible without some means of governmentality to guide "the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes."2 Still, digital Fordism suggests that not everyone will be inserted or adjusted in same ways to make these informatic circuits fire optimally. Instead, greater inequalities will come from these ensembles of telematic hardware, software, and content, because connectivity providers must still divide populations and space digitally into those who can and cannot pay. In this manner, the practices of governmentality will try to remediate "the methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes, and life in general without at the same time making them more difficult to govern"3 by becoming packets of bits. Governmentality directs itself at "the conduct of conduct" by finding the most convenient arrangements between people and things.4 With the Net, however, transnational capital finds the perfect means for its people to guarantee that a governmentality of its things, for its things, and by its things shall not perish from this earth.
Once online, the patrons of Ford Outfitters must be questioned about all of their old statuses as human agents, like the territorialized national, or "the citizen," born to subjectivity in a polis. When offline, they are encouraged to revel in their consummational statuses and roles as deterritorialized consumers/producers, or "buyers and sellers," who fulfill the subjectivity of the agora by knowing, as FoMoCo asks, "No Boundaries." Caught up within these far more complex language games, Ford's workers, managers, and customers, just like all other nodal points in a network, can be a sender, a receiver, and/or a referent in the relays of transnational data flows anchored by FoMoCo.
Digital Fordism illustrates, once again, how new revolutions will be made transnationally, as Beck maintains, "under the cloak of normality"5 thanks to telematic global powers like Microsoft and Bill Gates or AOL and Steve Case. "In contemporary discussions," as Beck suggests, "the 'alternative society' is no longer expected to come from parliamentary debates on new laws, but rather from the application of microelectronics, genetic technology, and information media." Model E Fords are just one manifestation of these broader trends. Moreover, FoMoCo's technical-corporate agendas also reveal how fully the Net's techno-economic action remains shielded from the demands of democratic legitimation by its own constitution. At the same time, however, it loses its non-political character. It is neither politics nor non-politics, but a third entity: economically guided action in pursuit of interests.7
Once online, many centers of economically guided action, like Ford Motor Company, actively can pursue their own national, corporate, and personal monetary interests as system-affirming performativity. As almost everything in cyberspace becomes an I-Mart, ironically and simultaneously, the networks are divorced from democratic legitimation, given their non-political character, and entitled to lock their users into games of performativity.8
On one level, digital Fordism is simply a rhetorical representation of various ideological projects, like Dertouzos' "information marketplace," Gates' "friction-free capitalism," and Negroponte's "being digital," that dresses out automotive goods and services in the semantic costume of cybernetic activities. On a second level, digital Fordism is a new global infrastructure of material systems--chips and cables, routines and routers, modems and machines all stacked up upon themselves to re-rationalize automobile output as kineformative capitalist exchange. Physical assets cannot be discounted entirely from cyberspace, because without these kineformative components nothing would operate. Still, on a third level, digital Fordism is an institutionalized culture whose code-carried values coevolve hand-in-hand with its machine-made products. Control over specific segments of capital, labor, knowledge, and communication in one or few countries, however, is turning such big sociotechnical systems into truly metanational entities with their own virtual and material assets to serve, protect, and defend against national interests in many, or even most, countries.
Here as a digital kineformation, Ford's bits reach out, touch someone, organize something, and then reconstitute both human acts and non-human artifacts into the telematic and machinic commodities that will be known as "smart cars." Digital Fordism shows that one can no longer talk about the Net "and" politics. On the contrary, the Net is politics all the way down into the nation, the company, the factory, the product, the home. As a multiplicity whose dimensions, directions, and determinations remediate the surplus value seeking of transnational enterprise, the Net entwines politics and economics at even more intense levels of interoperation. Hence, the political arrangements for who dominates whom, from both the inside of as well as from the outside of virtual structures, like Model E FoMoCo, becomes the most significant question for critical analysis to ask of any network's designers, owners, and users.