Expert Voice: Christopher Meyer on the Accelerating Enterprise
November 2, 2002
We still haven't worked through the idea of time as the scarce resource. When the costs of what we sold were mainly raw materials and labor, we became efficient about consuming those things. But now all our costs are fixed costs with regard to time. We build software systems and factories that cost the same whether we use them or not. Therefore, the more efficiently we use the time of those expensive resources, the less they cost.
If the scarce resource is time, we need a management system that measures return on time, for people and for capital. Michael Rothschild invented an accounting system for manufacturing that, instead of doing normal activity-based costing, allocates costs according to the degree to which an activity uses up our bottleneck capability. So if painting is the bottleneck in your automobile factory, allocate cost based on the percent of the paint capacity you use, because that's what your gating factor is. If management time is the gating factor, then we need to assess return on that asset and use it to allocate time.
In the industrial era, financial capital was a scarce resource, so return on equity became the measurement of success. But if you think a little more broadly about life, the scarce resource is time. That's true of the consumer, it's true of everybody in all their roles, it's true of a lifetime, and it's true of a business.
Tyranny of the moment: Fast and slow time in the information age
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Pluto Press 2001
Using a wealth of examples, the book offers an accurate and wide-ranging diagnosis of this hurried era . It shows in which ways phenomena such as soap operas, correspondence, the youth cult, advertising and "flexible work" are connected to a logic of acceleration and fragmentation, with information technology as a driving force, and how they are connected with the history of modern society.
At the same time, the book indicates that there are deep contradictions in technology-driven contemporary society. Who would have expected the time-saving technology — from the filofax to e-mail and the mobile phone — to result in time being scarcer than ever? As availability approaches one hundred per cent, the struggle now concerns the right to be unavailable, the right to live and think more slowly.
The book reveals unintended consequences of technological change, in particular showing how the computer revolution and the massive growth in information, associated particularly with the 1990s, encourage a restless, fleeting mode of being, and a superficial, hurried culture, which is inimical to fundamental values. This kind of analysis, it is argued, should underlie a new kind of social movement which takes the social organisation of time as its starting-point for a critique of contemporary technocracy.
This chapter connects the analysis of the information revolution with developments in some main social fields – labour, family life, consumption. It argues that accelerated change as it appears in people’s everyday life (where it is often lauded as "flexibility") is a serious threat to collective projects, including the family, and that the youth cult characteristic of popular culture indicates a disdain for maturing and (what I hesitate to call) organic growth.
Michael H. Goldhaber
The Attention Economy and the Net
If the Web and the Net can be viewed as spaces in which we will increasingly live our lives, the economic laws we will live under have to be natural to this new space. These laws turn out to be quite different from what the old economics teaches, or what rubrics such as "the information age" suggest. What counts most is what is most scarce now, namely attention. The attention economy brings with it its own kind of wealth, its own class divisions - stars vs. fans - and its own forms of property, all of which make it incompatible with the industrial-money-market based economy it bids fair to replace. Success will come to those who best accommodate to this new reality.
We are moving into a period wholly different from the past era of factory-based mass production of material items when talk of money, prices, returns on investment, laws of supply and demand, and so on all made excellent sense. We now have to think in wholly new economic terms, for we are entering an entirely new kind of economy. The old concepts will just not have value in that new context.
Of course, there is nothing so new about the insight that the Internet is part of a revolutionary change in the way we do things and also in why we do them. Many names for the new era have been invoked: the information age, the Third Wave, the move towards cyberspace, all of which point, vaguely at least to the fact that new patterns of activity and of interrelationships among people are now emerging. The trouble with that insight is that it is so vague that you can easily agree with it without feeling the necessity of changing your economic thinking in the least. My effort over the past several years - it's embarrassing to admit how many - has been to overcome that vagueness, to come up with specifics about what this revolution actually implies. My conclusions are that we are headed into what I call the attention economy.