Grant McCracken: The Reclocking of America (and the Death of the Mall)

Historian E.P. Thompson suggested that as industrial capitalism took hold in the West, we began to organize time in new ways. A ritual cycle was replaced by a model in which leisure days were fewer and more concentrated. The West was being, in effect, reclocked.

The English historian E.P. Thompson suggested that as industrial capitalism took hold in the West, we began to organize time in new ways.   A ritual cycle with lots of saints days and religious celebrations was replaced by a model in which leisure days were fewer and more concentrated (on the weekend, in the summer, etc.)  The West was being, in effect, reclocked.  (My term, not his.)

Surely, post-industrial capitalism is having this effect as well.  I believe we are cultivated a “just-in-time” model that says we prefer to dispatch things the moment they “come up.”  We are disinclined to keep a to-do list.

This means that when I think of something I want to say to someone, I much prefer to write an email.  I really do not want to make a phone call.  This is because I can dispatch the task as part of my immediate work flow.  More importantly, the email “stacks” at her end, allowing her “to get to it when she gets to it.”  (A phone call demands she stop what’s she’s doing, to field the call or the message.)

This extends to our buying behavior.  The old model of retail says, in effect, “you come to us.”  You, the buyer, must stop what you are doing and come to the mall, the high street, the retail outlet.  The trip there is time consuming.  Parking is almost always a high stress exercise.  The place is crowded.  The choices too numerous.  The undertaking mostly joyless.

How better it is to visit Amazon.com and make the purchase in our “work flow.”  Amazon then takes care of virtually every thing else, and the package stacks, quite literally, on our door step.  It’s ready when we are.  Not the other way round.

In this model, we organize our time into one continuous flow.  This means, as others have noted, that we weave public and private time together, work and personal life blur.  But it also means that we dispatch in real time, stacking messages and purchases as we go.

This spells the end of retail as we know it.

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