Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.  

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   Entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are in the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.”   

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly:  “Seems to me we have two open topics – (i) if the invention of the automobile changed society; (ii) to what extent do product life cycles influence societal change.  But I need to get out of the office soon, so no blabbering on, please.”

Jordan:  “So diplomatic.  OK, I’ll try to keep it short…”

Gelly:  “…and simple.”

Jordan:  “Let’s start with autos.  Recall I said the iPhone…really the smartphone…seemed to be more integration of existing components than an invention.  Without question, since introduction the iPhone has had a major impact on societies worldwide.  But, to me the iPhone should not be categorized as a major technology breakthrough.”

iPhone3Gelly:  “Your analysis surprised me before the break and still surprises me.  I always thought the iPhone was some big invention.  Invention or not, what does the iPhone have to do with the automobile?”

Jordan:  “The introduction of the automobile, in many ways, fits in the same category as the iPhone – more integration than invention.”

Gelly:  “Your comment just seems to counter-intuitive.  Why do you say the automobile was more integration?”

Jordan:  “What was the nickname that most people called early automobiles?”

1903 OldsGelly:  “Horseless carriage, right?”

Jordan:  “Yes.  And what did the early automobiles look like?”

Gelly:  “A carriage without horses.”

Jordan:  “Now, think about the key components of an early automobile.  Obviously horse-carriage components were around.  If fact, for the early years, automobiles used wooden frames and wooden wheels – wheels, not tires.  The engine for the automobile had been around for a while, too.  Both the steam engines and the gas engine had been used in farm tractors.”

Model T AssemblyGelly:  “What about the assembly line.  Didn’t Henry Ford invent that?”

Jordan:  “Not really.  An assembly line required parts to be standardized so each part fit the same way on every car.  While Ford was probably the first auto company to use an assembly line, rifle manufacturers had been making standardized parts for decades.  Ford was smart and adopted the same assembly-line technique to increase production and reduce cost of the Model A.”

Gelly:  “Gee, I always thought automobiles were a technological breakthrough.  Now you’re saying autos were more like an iPhone.”

Jordan:  “True, but I also have a confession.  Always knew that Henry Ford borrowed the idea of an assembly line but until this conversation, I never really thought about the development of the automobile as being more integration than invention.”

Gelly:  “Well, well.  Jordan makes a confession.  Now, next topic – how do product life cycles affect societal change?”

Jordan:  “Stick with autos to start.  The automobile life cycle has been very long…and still going strong.  While lots of things on cars have changed – design, interior, engine Baker Electricperformance, emissions, creature comforts – the fundamental technology in cars and trucks is the same as the early 1900’s.  I know that might sound odd, but it’s true.  Most people forget there were steam-powered cars and battery-powered electric cars in 1910.  See that picture on my desk.  That’s a Baker Electric.”

Gelly:  “You mean Elon Musk didn’t invent the electric car?  Yikes!  What will all those Millennials think?”

Jordan:  “Now, now, be nice.”

Gelly:  “I know what you mean.  If you see a car that was built around 1910, even earlier, everyone still knows it’s a car.  That’s not true for some major products from 40-50 years ago, or even 25-30 years ago.”

WhyJordan:  “So has the automobile life cycle affected societal behavior?  Yes, but has society been affected by the life-cycle of the automobile manufacturers?”

Gelly:  “Not sure what you mean.”

Jordan:  “The answer is no, society has not.  Let me tell you why.  And give me some leeway on the numbers.  They’re about right.  In the US in 1910 there were 200 or more companies making cars.  By 1920 that number had dropped to about 20.”

Gelly:  “Is that drop like one of those order-of-magnitudes you were talking about before the break?”

Declining ChartJordan:  “Yes.  Very good.  Then between about 1920 and the mid-1960’s, the number of manufacturers dropped from 20 to 4-5, depends on the timing.  However, did the decline in the number of manufacturers affect how societal behavior was affected by the automobile?”

Gelly:  “No.  Car sales kept increasing.  So the relative short life-cycle of most of the early manufacturers had no affect at all on the number of cars being produced.  In fact, even though the number of car manufacturers declined sharply, the number of cars sold increased sharply.”

Jordan:  “So now we’ve separated the influence of the technology from the influence of individual companies involved with the technology.”

Gelly:  “The number of auto companies in the US declined but then it increased again.  Right now there are a bunch of foreign companies selling cars in the US.  And many of those companies have assembly plants here.  Let’s see, there’s Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes, BMW…let me think some more.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “You’ve made your point.  There are at least 10 different auto companies with assembly plants in North America. They got here, in part, because in the late 1960’s and 1970’s and even in the 1980’s, the US companies were slow to respond to changing consumer tastes and the increased demand for more fuel-efficient cars.  Even if the Big 3 auto companies had responded more quickly, they probably could not have stopped all the imports.”

Gelly:  “So in the 1970’s the foreign-based companies start selling in the US…and have taken a big chunk of the US market.  But what I don’t understand is why did they build assembly plants in the US?  If Trump’s MAGA claim – Make America Great Again – had any validity, then why wouldn’t the various foreign manufacturers take the same approach?  Just build cars in say Germany or Japan and ship to the US.  Why not?

Trump DunceJordan:  “The foreign-based manufacturers built plants in North America to save money and respond to market demands more quickly.  What Trump seemed to overlook…more likely never understood…is the real cost and the long lead-times involved with building overseas and then shipping to the country where the cars are sold.  What he also probably never understood was that before 1920, the US auto companies set up assembly plants in a number of foreign countries for the very same reasons the foreign companies built assembly plants in the US.”

Gelly:  “Another example of dodo-bird reasoning in the Trump Oval Office.  Boy, am I glad Trump’s gone.”

Jordan:  “Speaking of gone, before you leave let me try to wrap us what we’ve been talking about.”

Gelly:  “Let me try instead, please.  Societies may experience major changes in behavior as a result of a new product.  There does not seem to be consistent pattern whether the product that precipitated the change was an invention, a spin-off of an invention or an integration of other products, like the iPhone or the automobile.  We also concluded it doesn’t really matter…other than to maybe a few academics…whether the primary product was the invention, a spin-off or some integration.”

Jordan:  “OK so far.”

Gelly:  “In addition, although we didn’t talk about it a lot, some products have a very long life cycle that continues to affect societal behavior – automobiles, for example.  Other products have shorter cycles that affect societal behavior – mainframe computers, for example.  Some version of the Question Animatedshorter life-cycle product might still be around but the period of influence – its life cycle – is over.  I think I understand…but the answer seems so messy.”

Jordan:  “Agreed.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut answer whether a technology per se, products based on that technology, or some product which integrated that technology precipitated societal change…let alone did the societal change contribute to a societal revolution.”

Gelly:  “One thing is clear, I need to get out of here.  Good-bye, Jordan.”

Jordan:  “Good-bye, Gelly.”

(Topic over for now.  Will likely revisit reasonably soon.)