I’m going to go ahead and coin a phrase/word/expression.

It’s a big call, but I’ve googled it and nothing comes up so maybe no one has used this term.

It follows on from the new, grammatically horrifying craze of adding symbols into words.

But mine is not in the same vein as the name “La-a” (apparently pronounced Ladasha)… My symbols are quiet.

The word is FOR(WAR)D.

Silly word? Not really a word? More of an expression? A term? A mess?

detroit 7

This is what I call my Anti-Ford movement. My war against the assembly line/mass production system that Mr Ford made famous.

And this is what I see as the way forward.

detroit ford model t

Henry Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899.

After this failed, and a few more experimental starts, Ford designed the Model T in 1908 which began to make the automobile an accessible item on the mass market.

1913 saw the introduction of the assembly line in the factory and the removal of any other paint colour as black was the fastest drying and therefore most effective.

It is said that Ford timed everything in order to maximise efficiency. You couldn’t waste time changing a light bulb. He knew exactly how long it should take you to change that light bulb.

The assembly line introduction also correlated with a pay rise. 

5$ a day raise – which was almost double what some workers were being paid before.

Putting his anti-semantic tendencies aside, Ford did seem to have some noble views in relieving poverty and creating equality (as long as you weren’t Jewish, of course)

But his pay rise was not simply sympathetic. There was less training needed as the posts attracted better qualified, more dedicated workers and his workers ended up having enough to buy a car; a black Ford Model T.

But the efficiency and mass production ended up turn tailing and eating itself there in Detroit.

The competition grew, the production increased, more demand for faster, cheaper, better.

Ford, General Motors, Chrysler.

People got their pay packets and left Detroit.

The car market became flooded.

What grew up as a city for 3.5 million people now has about 700,000.

So what went wrong?

Because Google “Detroit” and these are the images:

detriot 1

Detroit 9

Detroit has become famous as a place of empty, decaying buildings, a film set for post apocalyptic films and for the crime rate.

And this is what I think happens when you stop considering the human aspect of work and life.

Putting in an assembly line means that, rather than working on a whole car, you work on a specific part. Day in day out.

I heard once about a woman in a shirt factory in New Zealand who had ironed the same shirt. The same shirt. Day in. Day out. For 11 years. 11.

Has anyone seen the film Groundhog Day?

detroit ford assembly

The pay rise might be your substitute, but, in actual fact, you have lost the pride of physically making something and the feeling of involvement in the product.

You have been transformed into part of a machine. You stop being a human and you become a cog.

As a cog you do not need to be the most skilled and, even if you gain more skills, they will never be needed.

So you buy your house with your higher pay cheque and you buy your car and then, as soon as you have the opportunity to leave the job. You go.


Technology, unless I am very much mistaken, is meant to improve our lives. It is meant to increase our freedom, our happiness and our equality.

But what if we are ruining people’s lives for this technology and the technology isn’t increasing our happiness?

Johnny Knoxville visited Detroit and talked to some young things that lived there.

They’re mainly artists who have moved into the abandoned buildings for studio space and living. One boy laughs about being 24 and having a whole 9 storey building at his disposal.

There is a huge amount of inner city gardening happening, public art and cultural events.

This may turn out to be similar to Berlin.

Where a town gets abandoned and then artists move in, revive a culture and then flocks of people return to the new wonderful life there.

But can we do anything before these extremes happen?

Can technology still give us the pride in our work? Retain or increase our community spirit? Our sense of place and home?

Can we rehumanise industry?

Actually “rehumanise” is not a word…

That’s another I shall have to make up.


One thought on “FOR(WAR)D

  1. Great post, Kat. I think the truly MASS production model is largely broken. Even China has moved up the value chain to handle more specialised products.

    The question is how to balance technology/efficiency with humanity – a vision for something better, something meaningful for people economically and ethically? Efficiency should only ever exist in service to higher ideals.

    Detroit is a sad case. Though America is talking about ‘re-manufacturing’ and bring advanced additive and robotic manufacturing back for highly skilled workers.

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