Friday, January 22, 2010

The End of Economic Man, Forward (pt 2)

I am not moving very quickly through the book. I had planned to do a chapter a day or at least five chapters a week. However, this work has to fit into a daily life that includes the usual household duties, teaching, and a writing schedule. I write a 2,500 essay each month for Computer and currently am writing an encyclopedia entry on software engineering. Though I have put management aside, at least temporarily, I am the Vice President of Publications for the Computer Society and that has demanded my attention this week. If I can at least move forward every day, that will have to be enough.

Also, as I am writing from the point of view of digital computing and communications technology, I wanted to make the connection between that those technologies and Drucker. Drucker wrote The End of Economic Man almost a decade before the electronic computer. At the time, the most common form of computing technology was the punched card machinery of IBM.

Punched card machinery dates to the 1890 Census of the United States but that technology acquired new sophistication in the 1920s and 1930s. IBM expanded the size of the card in 1928 and developed a new line of products to punch, read, sort, tabulate, and handle accounting problems. These machines encouraged the industrial production of information during the 1930s. They facilitated the rapid expansion of US Government agencies and programs during the New Deal. Some writers have even argued that the Nazis used punched cards to facilitate the Holocaust. If you are going to move against 6 million members of your own population, you probably need industrial tools to identify and track those individuals.

You will need to forgive these little essays, these little bursts of excessive fact. I would like to think that it is an endearing aspect to my personality but I suspect that it can be more than a little irritating. I mentioned punched cards because, like Drucker, I am dubious that there can be sudden, instantaneous changes. In this forward he writes that there are neither “’accidents’ nor ‘miracles’ in political and social life.” (p xv).

As I look ahead, I anticipate that Drucker will be writing about several technical changes that many have identified as revolutionary. The computer (1946-ish). The software industry (about 1968) and the more or less unrelated social upheaval. The personal computer (let’s call it 1980). The Internet (1992 for all tends and purposes.) All of these things are important. All of them changed the way that we look at our selves and manage our organizations. But in line with Drucker, I suspect that they had an impact not because of a radical change of technology but because they caused us to get a new concept of our own function and our own place in society. (p xvi)

That is it for this week. I am planning that this will be a workday blog. See you Monday with Chapter I. Let's see if we can get 5 chapters next week. Take care.

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