1 Mar 2019
At the end of the 19th century, after the second industrial revolution, mass production became the standard way to produce goods. Back then this transformation was seen by many (including the modernists) with idealist eyes. The possibilities provided by increasing efficiency of production inspired a positivist discourse regarding the benefits that “the modern way” would bring to humanity, including democratization of consumption due to lower costs, comfort, etc. Although many of these expectations where actually met, today we know that the model of mass production brought other problems that at the moment were not considered. The social, environmental and economic issues that abundance brought along lead us to see mass production today as a system that “doesn’t work anymore”.
According to many analysts a new model of production and consumption is currently emerging; a model that can, once again, revolutionize the way we get and make things. This new model involves flexible infrastructure of production to manufacture products on demand in order to respond to personalized needs and desires. Once again technology promises to solve many of the current problems of humanity generated by the “old system”; and if this time we want to see the actual results that this “revolution” may bring, we should approach it with as much objectivity as we can, critically and employing multidisciplinary resources.
This time we should ask ourselves how can emerging models of flexible production and personalized products have a positive impact on sustainability without assuming that they are inherent to technology and will come along. If we look forward to improve our world the focus should be in finding the way to do it, building it based on knowledge, on trial and error, critical analysis and assessment, with the right goal in mind. No digitalization only for the sake of de-materializing, not flexibilization only for the sake of freedom of choice, no participation only for the sake of involving more people. The question should be: when do de-materialization, freedom of choice and involvement lead to a better reality for humanity and the planet? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do suspect it is not “always”.