Aug 26, 2016

The Industrial World – And What It Implies

R Jayaraman

Even in his wildest dreams would James Watt have never known what he had wrought in 1761. By inventing and patenting the steam engine he had let loose the monster called “industrial revolution” into an unsuspecting world. The rolling that he started gathered a huge momentum when Henry Ford assembled his famous assembly line and circulated himself to fame and fortune. The invention of the computer sealed the fate of all things non-industrial, making industry the only and the most important prime mover of economic growth.

To the extent that one starts suspecting whether one is living and consuming endlessly to keep the standard of living high! We are told, the more the consumption, the better the standard of living. The math is very simple. Mass production brings costs down, but what one is not told is that mass production can work only when supported by mass consumption. So the leaders who espouse mass production as the panacea for all social ills always look out from the corner of their eyes to check and ensure that someone is convincing everyone to consume – anything and everything. No wonder General Electric is reputed to have sent a sales team to sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

The word “modern” can be used today for anything and everything which supports an industrial way of life. Be it music, be it the arts, be it handicrafts. If it aint financially lucrative, it aint nothing. Money is the logical corollary to the mass production concept. Mass earnings. Mass money follows mass scale. Like in Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett, and George Soros and Mukesh Ambani.

Everything is measured by its “mass.” As in democracy it is the quantity that you have to count on. A wit remarked “quantity can be counted, but one can ONLY count ON quality.” Without quality, quantity cannot count. Only discount. In classical supply chain management terms – quantity discount!

The pastoral life of the early ages has vanished in many parts of the world, but still manages to hold its position in India. Even today one can see the cowherd, the potter, the cowshed, the muddy roads, the cattle grazing in the land on which once Krishna played the flute for them. Contrast the two and you get the picture. A world where industry is becoming all prevalent, and money the driver of all human endeavour. As they say, money is not everything. It is the only thing. So is industry.

But it is not as bad as it may appear. The industrial world has its charms. The easy availability of musical programmes, in any part of the world through the TV and the electronics that back it, to anyone, in any part. The end of drudgery with computers and automation taking up primary positions in industrial activities. The coming digital revolution, the IOT, industry 4.0 and the works. Ultimately, it is upto man to figure out how to programme the Frankenstein’s Monster created and let loose by James Watt to make life multi dimensional and sustainable. The planet will depend on this.

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