Modern Technics

June 5, 2011

In your previous post, you asked me about the Cronon book, Nature’s Metropolis.  It is indeed a very interesting account of the environmental and economic history of the west.  One of its central concepts is that of hinterland and how things like railroads connected Chicago’s hinterlands to Chicago and then on to the east.  I don’t know if you saw this article in the Post-Standard about a house that came to Syracuse via boxcar, selected from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, but it is a great example of what you described with respect to marketing.  Something that is unmentioned in the article is where the lumber was sourced from: presumably from the hinterland, the forests of the northern midwest.  And there is a reason for this omission.  One of the great changes that took place in that era was the so-called dissociation of modern technics.  Once lumber entered Chicago, wood became commoditized.  It didn’t matter whether it came from Wisconsin or Iowa or Kamchatka: wood was wood.  Indeed one can reasonably argue that exotic financial instruments, which were in peak fashion a few years ago and which are almost completely dissociated from the assets they represent, are another step in this arc of history through to the present.

This idea of modern technics was first invoked by Lewis Mumford in his 1934 book Technics and Civilization.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, the notion of a bit as a common currency for information is another manifestation of this dissociation.  With the information-based services sector becoming dominant in modern economies and labor productivity in information services arguably rising, I very much wonder what will happen as the financial and informational trends of dissociation come together.  I guess we will see, or perhaps even play a role in shaping things.

Some things however are not commoditized.  Coming back to the Sears catalog house on 1500 James St., and in fact the whole James St. and Sedgewick  neighborhood, I hope there is no fear for those properties becoming vacant, but then again, maybe spatial econometrics, data analytics, and urban economics will say something else. Would you play SimCity with a dashboard?


One comment

  1. […] like a bidnessman.)  This makes sense since the middle word is consumer.  Building upon what you said about dissociation, I think another thing that is being dissociated is social media content from […]

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