I borrowed a book from Dane Stangler without his permission, and couldn't resist because I have wanted to read this book for such a long time: The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs. Written in 1968, the year of riots that radically altered the shape of Detroit and other great cities, the book is amazingly insightful. Consider this, which I call the Lesson of Three Product Stages:
Garment making, I think, affords an interesting clue to future manufacturing because it exemplifies manufacturing of three distinctly different kinds. The oldest is craftwork.... The second is mass production.... The third method of garment manufacturing has arisen chiefly during this [20th] century, has grown much more rapidly than the other two, and has become the dominant form. For lack of any present generic name, let us call it differentiated production. This method produces relatively modest amounts of each item as compared with mass production, yet it is not craft manufacturing either.... Thanks to this third kind of garment making, one can look at a crowd of thousands of persons in a large city park on a fine day or gathered to watch a parade, and be hard put to find two women or two children dressed in identical outfits. (Chapter 8)
From what I can tell by googling "differentiated production," this concept is underappreciated and sometimes mischaracterized. Craft products are made by artisans, mass products are made by one-size-fits-all factories, and “differentiated” products are made by modernized assembly processes. I think the problem is that the word differentiated describes the output, not the process. Both stage 1 and 3 yield differentiated output, but stages 2 and 3 use mass production. I am tempted to call stage 3 something new. Customized? Personalized? Micro-mass?
Maybe Jacobs Three-Stage Theory is canonical among city scholars, which is entirely likely. But here's why it matters to me: I have seen the Three Product Stages occur in products that were not invented when I was born. Key Example:
Stage 1. 1973-76 Apple I (in a wooden box!)
Stage 2. 1977-81 Apple II, IBM PC
Stage 3. 1985-present Dell custom-ordered components
So what products are in Stages 1 and 2 today? And how soon do we think they will get to Stage 3? I can think of a few things in stage 2 (or 2.5) ... houses, game consoles, iPods, digital book readers. But the most things that are stuck in stage 1 (or 1.5) are major capital infrastructure things like highways and skyscrapers and jumbo jets. Does anyone doubt they will get to stage 2-3 this century?
Isn't the most interesting irony of Jacobs describing this 3-stage pattern in a book about cities is that it is not too hard to imagine whole cities moving from stage 1 to stage 3? I keep thinking of all these City 2.0 retirement communities popping up in Florida, Arizona ...