I’ve just ordered The New Industrial Revolution, by Peter Marsh, subtitled Consumers, Globalization, and the end of Mass Production, a book that received good reviews in The Economist . I will report on it when I read it, but I think I can predict its message — increased diversity in products allowing increasing customization is coming. I do not disagree with this, and in fact am all for it.
But what about standardization. Does this mean that it will be increasingly difficult to use “other people’s” products? Will manufacturers agree that certain products should offer the user controls and displays that are standardized across variations of the same product (automobiles, computers, mobile phones, dishwashers)? Or will we be increasingly annoyed by such things as the nagging small and meaningless differences between Apple and PC desktops?
Industrial products are to make our lives easier, not more difficult. Our brains remain the same size as options in life increase. We are beyond feature creep. And not only do we have to use these products, but are having to continually invest in the care and feeding of them, a task that becomes more difficult as the diversity increases. Probably a continual trend, but one that should be kept in mind by the designers and manufacturers of products.
Think of fasteners. Small items, but different fasteners require different tools. Fortunately, nuts and bolts seem to cling to hexagonal and square external shapes, with some exceptions such as wingnuts, and five sided ones. But internally, Wikipedia now lists 32 shapes. They are shown here. Each, of course, comes in several sizes. Does this mean that the well-equipped mechanic (or owner) should have 32 sets of screwdrivers in six or eight sizes each? Unlikely. But I work a lot with mechanical things, have several sets of screwdrivers (slotted, Phillips, Torx, etc) and am constantly being caught short, and I am an amateur. I do not love manufacturers who develop special fasteners, because I cannot help but think that they want me to buy a new product if something goes wrong, or take it to one of their “service” centers to be repaired.
And of course we do have to wrestle with the U.S. not having mandated the metric system (we are one of the three countries in the world , the others being Myanmar and Liberia, that have not done so). We have been trying to do this for many years, but still are caught in the past. A costly mistake, stemming from our unwillingness to move from our traditional system of measurement (even though it is a terrible one), and our strange tendency to think that even though we are only 1/20th of the world’s population, everyone should be like us. More about our attempts to join the world in mandating the metric system in my next post.