Friday, October 23, 2009

A Brief Review of Ilya Ehrenburg, The Life of the Automobile (1929) -- Globalization and the Automobile Industry

P.167 -- "The automobile has come to show even the slowest of minds that the earth is truly round, that the heart is just a poetic relic, that a human being contains two standard gauges: one indicates miles, the other minutes."

Sometimes getting the flu is not such a bad thing, as it gives one pause to read books that have been on thee shelf for some time and to think in repose, albeit coughing and sniffling repose. From time to time I have seen citations of Ilya Ehrenburg's The Life of the Car (1929, rpr. 1976, 1999). As I discovered today, this is a remarkable book, with meaning for today as well as an insightful view of the world between 1919 and 1929. The book is organized into seven chapters:
1. The Birth of the Automobile
2. The Conveyor Belt
3. Tires
4. A Poetic Digression
5. Gasoline
6. The Stock Exchange
7. Roads

In my mind, the primary themes revolve around: 1) the automobile and an evolving world of conformity, alienation, and speed; and 2) the complex interrelationship of so many activities and geographical areas of the world with the automobile at the apex of a materials, financial, production, and consumption pyramid. And things have not changed in structure in the years between 1929 and 2009, although complexity and scale certainly have developed in a a profound way. The automobile led to many jobs (Ford and Mass Assembly), much wealth (Andre Citroen, although he gambled much of his away), and considerable suffering (for example the rubber plantations in Malaysia). As Ehrenburg so effectively argues, what it means to be human changed profoundly with the coming of the automobile, not only in how we used this system of technology, but also in terms of the desires of the common person and the nature of our work. Stock markets, finance, speculation, and the drive to control oil and rubber were considered at the highest levels of government ( Hoover, Churchill, Clemenceau), and any notion of an industry reflective of free market dynamics were illusory even during the 1920s.

Speed, nerves, time -- how has the technology that is around us in our lives -- alarm clocks, appliances, cars, cell phones, TV and Radio, DVD, Internet -- forced us into patterns of behavior that genetically we are ill-equipped to handle well?

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