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Suburbs and Cubicles

The cubicle farm strikes me as the real-world embodiment of the dehumanization represented in org charts. I’m reading Douglas Rushkoff’s Life, Inc., about the rise of corporatism. He mentions the flight to the suburbs (also mentioned in The McDonaldization of Society) and I wondered about the connection between the suburbs and the cubicle farm. Both contributed to the individualizing of America, our separation from one another.. Both strike me as products of Weberian rationalization, in that tract homes and cubicle farms are models of efficiency and quantifiability from the stand point of production… but ultimately isolating and damaging from the perspective of those who have to live in and use them.

Vegas Suburbs
“Vegas Suburbs”
, from rich_lem’s photostream

  1. The view from above – it all?

    I live in a tract, albeit with lawn. And feel far from isolated.

    As a writer, I could only work well in a cave of an office; grateful for isolation.

    My favorite standard job ever was as an airline agent in a cubicle with phone and computer and I never for a moment felt isolated from my clients or colleagues.

    The 1st definition of Flight refers to the power of flying or soaring through space; a positive attraction. The 2nd definition refers to fleeing, as from danger. But when flight is applied to suburban movement, only the negative connotation is considered. I personally hope that more suburban homes are bought than are books that belittle that aspiration.

    The Big Mac is the only McDonaldization, and it is a dietary scandal, not societal.

  2. You’re missing something, which I hoped you were stumbling towards in this series of posts. Standardization happens when there is a popular way to do something and people don’t want to worry about spending effort on that thing.

    People who want to innovate something that hasn’t been done yet need to free themselves from worrying about the things their predecessors worried about. Hence standardization. You see this regularly in software languages. Once we all spent a lot of time hand-compiling, say, a document server, into our own custom low-level source code. Turns out most people wanted the same thing from a document server, so standardization happened and we all serve docs the same way and now can spend time writing more interesting web applications.

    People are free to spend effort to live in an interesting nonstandard house (like I do) or to cultivate personal relationships with the people they work for (like I do), or to personalize their desk at work (about which I couldn’t care less). Or to grow their own food, try an unknown burger joint, write software in assembly language, ship cargo in nonstandard containers.

    But they don’t have to if they don’t want to. Who are these people you lament “who have to live in and use them”?

    (The apparent conclusion, that a whole lot of people want to be dehumanized, is not as ridiculous as you think it is.)

  3. Dreary, but let’s not get too rich guy about.

    For over 2-3 billion on earth, that would be a dream place to work and a dream place to live and they will die having never come close to either.

  4. Nice post! I have added Life, Inc to my Amazon wish list. As part of my dissertation research I read a book called Making America Corporate, by Oliver Zunz. It was very helpful in helping me understand how the corporate form emerged from a specific set of historical and social conditions. You might enjoy it …

  5. I think we’re in an increasingly interesting time in history where people are finally realizing the consequences corporatization has had on our health, our way of living, our environment and our overall happiness over the last half century or longer. I think we are going to see more and more that people are trying to take back America and their lives with little steps that will have a huge overall affect on our society decades from now; Growing their own gardens, buying local, buying handmade (etsy etc), buying organic and the rise of DIY projects. A very interesting evolution to watch as it unfolds.

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