Interesting notes on the concept of the “electronic cottage,” drawn from Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s work:
Development of the "electronic cottage"
Mass production, like mass media, is nearly obsolete and on the way out. "..while 'the less highly developed countries-- [those] with a GNP of between U.S. $1000-2000 per capita per annum--concentrate on mass produced manufacturers' the 'most highly developed countries.. concentrate on the export of one- off and short-run manufactured goods depending on highly skilled labour and.. high research costs: computers, specialised machinery, aircraft, automated production systems, high technology paints, pharmaceutical products, high technology polymers and plastics'" (182).
"The step beyond this, of course, is complete customization-- the actual manufacture of one-of-a-kind products. And that is clearly the direction in which we are heading: products custom-cut for individual users" (183).
"The shift toward customization is perhaps best symbolized by a computer-based laser gun introduced a few years ago into the clothing industry... [it] operates on a radically different principle. It does not cut 10 or 50 or 100 or even 500 shirts or jackets at a time. It cuts one at a time. But it actually cuts faster and cheaper than the mass-production methods employed until now. It reduces waste and eliminates the need for inventory. For these reasons, according to the president of Genesco, one of the largest manufacturers of apparel in the United States, 'The laser machines can be programmed to fill an order for one garment economically.' What that suggests is that some day even standard sizes may disappear. It may be possible to read one's measurements into a telephone, or point a video camera at oneself, thus feeding data directly into the computer, which in turn will instruct the machine to produce a single garment, cut exactly to one's personal, individualized dimensions." (184).
But there is a logical step beyond this. "Hidden inside our advance to a new production system is a potential for social change so breathtaking in scope that few among us have been willing to face its meaning... Apart from encouraging smaller work units, apart from permitting a decentralization and de- urbanization of production, apart from altering the actual character of work, the new production system could shift literally millions of jobs out of the factories and office into which the Second Wave swept them and right back where they came from originally: the home. If this were to happen, every institution we know, from the family to the school and the corporation, would be transformed" (194).
There are many reasons why people would not want to move back to their own homes to work.... "Yet there were equally, if not more, compelling reasons three hundred years ago to believe people would never move out of the home and field to work in factories. After all, they had labored in their own cottages and the nearby land for 10,000 years, not a mere 300. The entire structure of family life, the process of child-rearing and personality formation, the whole system of property and power, the culture, the daily struggle for existence were all bound to the hearth and the soil... yet these chains were slashed in short order as soon as a new system of production appearedl... Today that is happening again" (195).
There is already an appreciable amount of work being done at people's homes: salesmen, architects, designers, consultants, therapists, psychologists, music teachers, language instructors, art dealers, investment counselors, insurance agents, lawyers, academic researchers, and many other professional and technical people.
"These are, moreover, among the most rapidly expanding work classifications" (197). The addition of PC's, FAX machines, networks on telephone lines, the information highway, teleconferencing, etc., the number of people capable of working from home increases dramatically.
Consider the cost incentives to companies. Commuting, which they indirectly subsidize, runs an average of 29 times as much as the installation of telecommunication equipment in a person's home. In addition, huge savings in real estate costs, capital building investments, and building maintenance can be had. Staying at home will also reduce pollution, and the cost of cleaning it up.
On the home side, as shorter work weeks become common, "the higher ratio of commuting time to working time [becomes] more irrational, frustrating, and absurd" (203). In addition, shared work has traditionally helped to bind families together. "..when campaigners for familylife discover the possibilities inherent in the transfer of work to the home we may well see a rising demand for political measures to speed up the process--tax incentives, for example, and new conceptions of workers' rights" (203).
The home-centered society
As the electronic cottage spreads, a chain of consequences will occur in society:
- Greater community stability due to less forced mobility, less stress on the individual, fewer transient human relationships, and a greater participation in community life.
- A renaissance among voluntary organizations like churches, women's groups, lodges, clubs, athletic and youth organizations.
- Energy requirements will be reduced due to energy decentralization. Energy demand would be spread out, making it easier to use solar, wind, and other alternative energy technologies.
- The auto industry, oil companies, and commercial real estate developers would be hurt.
- Electronics industry, computer companies, and the communications industries would flourish.
- Increasingly, workers would own the means of production (reference Marx, Marcuse).