December 3, 2016
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
As questions or add comments below on the readings for this week: Smith and Clancey, 151-152, 221-232, 267-289
Taylorism was an interesting subject to read about and an interesting concept. The concept of Taylorism was indeed taking the man and turning him into machine; fine tuning him to work at the maximum capacity. The manager to put it lightly basically inserted money into this man-machine and expected it to work while skipping all errors made by humans and without endangering or breaking the “machine”. This concept is completely absurd, you do not take a car engine and rev it to its fullest and expect it to keep running perfectly non-stop for three days. Also you cannot expect an athlete to run at full speed for 24 hour straight. Taylorism made working an impossible task. One thing these “managers” should note about business is that they should never make their employers do something that they themselves could do equally as well. Regardless of the above, I wonder how many different fields other than factories and housekeeping that Taylorism was actually applied to or at least tried out?
I found interesting what the secretary of the American Watch Company at Waltham wrote about how and why pay is more for women and men. “Men earn about double the wages of women, because, first, they do more difficult work, are more ingenious, more thoughtful and contriving, more reliant on themselves in matters of mechanics, are stronger, and therefore worth more, though not perhaps double, as an average; second, because it is the custom to pay women less than men for the same labor.” It’s interesting to see how the train of thought was back then about gender and masculinity. We read earlier that women were perhaps the better watch makers, yet because a man is stronger he gets paid more. It’s odd to me how much different the times were then when considering labor wages.
I liked the Adas article as well. The point he makes about an industrialized society still rings true today. The countries with the most technology and wealth a generally viewed to be more powerful and in a sense better. Industrialization might mean better technologies, yet it doesn’t account for values in beliefs that a society might have. It makes it harder to rank and compare countries on core beliefs rather than just on technological strength.
The Efficiency Report in Christine Frederick seemed fascinating. In 1913 the standard seems to be that the wealthy simply pay for servants and the poor are already servants so their work is easy. The trick always seems to be the middle class family, one or two children and a household with a modest income. They cannot afford to hire people to do their work and their cost of living is slightly higher (sounds like paying for college). Instead the advice which Frederick gives is to rely on an Efficiency system, “Even the simplest…tasks may be standardized.” She though that the scientific method was better than rule-of-thumb. “If housework is drudgery to a woman it is only because that woman refuses to accept the efficient methods and improved equipment offered her on every hand.” Wow…I’m kind of surprised that certain people haven’t spoken up about this.
I found it interesting the way the Western world used technology as a way to sort of justify their superiority. They had this idea that how you mastered and controlled the land and it’s resources equated with how intelligent you were and how superior your race was. As a result, I think they also justified the conquering and colonizing of other lands and peoples by the fact that they were so technologically superior. As seen with settlers in the New World who attempted to “civilize” Native Americans, I think they felt obligated to improve the ways of life of those they saw as not as advanced.
I really enjoyed the article “The Principles of Scientific Management, 1911” by Frederick Taylor. I thought it was interesting how Taylor discussed the future of the workforce. He notes how the abundance of natural resources was diminishing and because of that, the type of worker changed. Previously, there was the notion that if there was the right man he could be taught the proper methods but the new type of man is the ready-made man. This is the man who has already been trained by someone else and is competent in his skill. In our modern world, I find this concept interesting and accurate even thought it was written in 1911. Today, jobs are so specialized that people have one skill but we also live in a society of instant gratification and want everything to happen right away. I think this translates to the work force that we have now. But I wonder if the type of man will change in the future?
I think it is super interesting how in Europe, women were valued in the watch making industry for their innate skills. However, in the US they are seen as expendable. The article even says that men were paid twice as much, even though they weren’t worth twice as much. They also say that men were valued for their strength, but the opposite was true in Europe; being small and agile was more valuable. they are very apt to marry just as they become skillful enough to be reliable; This distinction, the change in the women’s value, was brought about via mechanization of the watch industry.
It is interesting that the rhetoric used to describe female watchmakers was similar to that of the rhetoric used to describe other nations considered barbaric. It appears as if technology was used in the past as a tool to dominate marginalized groups and remind them of their place. The European motivation to give Africans and Asians technological products stemmed from their belief that they were superior and need to provide evidence through the tools that they had access to. They also believed that pushing these other nations into using new technologies would give them the ability to dominate them and take their resources. After having that understanding, it makes sense that the Chinese and other groups resisted all attempts from the Europeans to use new technologies.
One of the articles that I found most interesting and ironic was Michael Adas “Machines as the Measure of Men.” I foudn this article interesting and more than a little ironic because it talks discusses how Europeans thought that the Chinese (as well as other “colonies” in Asia and Africa) were inferior to the Europeans because they were less technologically advanced. This interested me because many of our more “basic” technologies, such as paper and fireworks, came from the Chinese. They use to be considered the most technologically advanced with traders frequently taking the new technologies and ideas from the Chinese back to Europe via the Silk Road. I was surprised that within a few hundred years the Chinese could go from being the inventors of technology to be technologically inferior.
I also found the Christine Frederick article interesting because it shows how Taylor’s “efficiency engineering” could be applied to increase productivity in the home. I cannot see why so many women would be against this because if they increased their productivity in the home they might have more time for more “leisure” activities.
I found the Virginia Penny piece to be the most interesting because it was very complimentary towards women atleast on the European side while the American side had negative views on women and work. The American factories did not care that women had better craftsmanship with watches due to the size of their hands. They felt that men were more reliable because of their strength. It reminded me a lot of a sports game, the ones who get all the glory are the ones scoring the points but could not have done it with out the defense (women). The fact that they had to work for ten straight hours every day of the year is unbelieveable and should show their endurance and strength.
This weeks readings presented an interesting idea towards the role that the technological mindset played in the advance of western imperialism. Western imperialism is often thought of in a positive light. Technology, not something like science, was the European entire justification towards power. Rather, it was their justification in the belief that they were significantly better than the native tribes. This justification arose out of the simple fact that technology is something you can see. You can point to a piece of technology, and judge the ability of the civilization that made it, in their view. Americans and Europeans believed that they were just in believing that their technology was the best. Because of this fact, they felt morally justified when it came to “civilizing” the rest of the world.
Virginia Penny’s article is interesting, especially when she is describing the European reasoning behind hiring so many woman. She talks about how woman are valued in the watch making business, “on account of their being naturally more dexterous with their fingers, and therefore being found to require less training” (152). She also quotes a traveler speaking about how woman are usually found at the head of the big manufactories. And at the same time, over in America it’s just the opposite view. Woman are not highly valued because in America they were considered unreliable. Even though the European women workers were more valued, did they make more than a woman workers in America?
I found it interesting to read Machines As a Measure of Men before all of the essays and letters about Taylorism because as it says Machines As a Measure of Men, the Europeans and Americans went into African and Asian countries between 1871 and 1914 to try to “civilize” the people. Although there were missions to “civilize” “primitive” people, this essay focuses on technology as being the criteria for a country’s status and superiority and is what makes a place less barbaric. Technology, therefore, became a means of justifying the Europeans’ and Americans’ ethnocentrism. Nevertheless, I found it ironic how the Europeans and Americans were creating these spheres of influence to “improve” places like China and Japan when back in their countries, there is the issue of efficiency and system of management showing they clearly were not masters of their own technology. I’m not saying that these places shouldn’t have been introduced to new technology, but it should not have been forced upon them. However, this method came back to haunt Europeans and American after Japan successfully industrialized (in 1905) and proved to be strong in the technologically-driven conflict in the century ahead.
I found Michael Adas’s article particularly interesting. The concept of colonization is one which is often glorified as the expansion of ideas; but the reality, as shown in Adas’s article, is that the expansion of Western civilizations was influenced by what Europeans, and later Americans, believed to be their “God given right” since they had gained the knowledge to become technologically superior to non-Western cultures. It is always eye-opening to see the opposite side of this expansion. Very rarely is it realized that the expansion into non-Western cultures brought and end to cultures that had been around for thousands of years. Just the same, because we are generally taught that this colonialization was a way to bring knowledge and religion to “unintelligent” peoples, it becomes even harder to imagine the opposite side of the event.
I found the comparison of watch makers by Virginia Penny an interesting section with countries claiming opposite arguments for the same sexes. For example she states that the Swiss employ women more often than not because of there slender fingers and “dexterous” hands, a useful attribute in hand making watches. England however, claims that the women are less useful because they are not as intelligent as the men and capable of putting all the parts together, a place where dexterousness would seem most beneficial. Also, an interesting facet was the price difference in the hand made European watches and the machine made American watches. Even a hundred years ago when machine processes were brand new, people still payed more for hand made merchandise. One thing I found odd is that she makes the point in here that England payed men more for their labor in the watch making industry because they are stronger than women. While generally a true statement, I am wondering what kind of strength is needed in the production of a tiny watch?
During Taylor’s time, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Technology needs to be efficient to be profitable. It is only efficient if it conserves time and or natural resources. Scientific Management is supposed to control the manufacturing process. If technological advancements make work dangerous than that is not efficient. Sometimes the machinery is not safe for the average worker to operate. Many employers decree that work must be completed on time. Rather, shouldn’t it be completely safely?
I was intrigued by the article by Frederick W. Taylor called Principles of Scientific Management. President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision on technology needing to bring efficiency was extremely visionary. He was right that technology does you no good if it does not conserve a countries natural resources. I can only imagine that he would be horrified that our technologies are requiring ( or at least being allowed to) strip our natural resources. Strip mining, fracking, uranium storage problems, old growth forrest depletion, well water contamination, ozone holes, pollution, and all to get the resources for our technology. The tipping point has been reached. We are actually irreversably changing our climate. And he saw all this in 1911, if we didn’t get it right. Amazing
In Taylor’s excerpt on scientific management, he goes on about how the management should regulate at least 50% of the manufacturing process, setting tasks with pay incentives for finishing on time or early, but with the caveat that the work should never be “at a pace which would be injurious to his health.” It seems like the employer would do everything possible to avoid making those bonus payments, which Taylor says should be at least 30%, if not 100%, of the worker’s wages, and they’re the ones setting the timeline for the tasks. I think that that particular way of encouraging workers to finish on time is a terrible idea: the employers could easily set ridiculously high standards for completion, and the workers, tempted with nearly doubling their salary in bonuses, would probably ignore the “injurious to health” idea and run a serious risk of getting hurt, especially those working in industries with lots of moving parts or heavy machinery where not paying attention for a second could be a disaster.
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