The Mechanical Man

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Philosophy
Tags: , , ,

The travails of a factory worker‘s life go beyond the drab working hours, spending years working on the same piece of machinery, tightening / adding the same part to the product on the assembly line.  The companies view the workers as nothing but a cog in the machine, a part of a process, much akin to the notable dialogue from the 2011 movie Hugo has which goes:

I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine… I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.

Only, the reason for your being is to assemble a particular component.

The assembly line is a very weird social network. You seldom get to meet people who work much further “upstream” or “downstream” from you. Your pulse is determined by the pace of the conveyor.

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York , 1944

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York , 1944

A typical workday: Your colleague who works right next to you gives you a nod. Yes, time to think of the next tidbit of conversation. Maybe, lets talk about that lout, the Manager. After all, he is nothing but a monkey on our backs! An alarm rings and lights flash. The indicator board. Ah! The new guy has screwed up again. Bless him for giving us a breather! …. Ten minutes for the lunch break… The bell goes. Time to scram!… Same tasteless broth today. Time for a quick game of cards… The supplies guy is coming. Wonder what’s up with him… Here comes the Manager to check if the day’s targets will be met, what a slave-driver… You look at your colleague who rolls his eyes. That reminds you of the movie you watched a few days back. Did you watch that movie, you ask…. The shift is about to end. Time for that stupid safety check… The bell rings. Freedom at last!

Have the modern manufacturing paradigms dehumanized the workplace to such an extent that workers start to behave like the machines they work on? What are the alternatives to giving the same job to a person for weeks? Job rotation, perhaps. What about automation? Automation in India is usually an inferior alternative due to the abundance of labour.

A quote for thought:

For God’s sake, let us be men not monkeys minding machines or sitting with your tails curled while the machine amuses us, the radio or film or gramophone. Monkeys with a bland grin on our faces. – D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930

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