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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
James Bond is My Neighbour: Suburban Imagery as Industry, Strange Harvest on plans to expand Pinewood Studios into an hybrid inhabited workspace, Project Pinewood. The green-belt development includes 'an estimated 2000 residential units' which will 'range in style and economic character to compliment the showcase of the 18 to 20 film zones.' (Amsterdam, Venice, Lake Como, Medieval Castle, Roman Amphitheatre, Vienna/Prague (so interchangeable in real life), Chinatown, Boston (one area for both), Chicago suburb, Downtown New York and, bizarrely, 'British Suburb'. Sam describes suburbs as 'synthesised environments', and these ready-made sets are the ultimate example of the fantasy inherent in suburbia. Perhaps the TV sitcom is ultimate aspirational community, peopled by minor celebs, endless comic incidents and your very own theme tune.

There's also the combination of decidedly non-suburban imagery with genuine exoticism. Most of these locations are clearly designed to be strongly reminiscent of Bond movie backdrops; simply consult the two James Bond flowcharts we linked to earlier, drop in your cityscape and you're off. The explicit link with film - and history - allies the scheme with the many Far Eastern 'heritage theme parks', like Thames Town in China, or Japan's Shakespeare Country Park. Authenticity is for losers. What better way to celebrate the inherently ersatz quality of modern life than to live in a film studio?

*

A Brief History of Outsourcing. Not very illuminating. Outsourcing was once a largely political concept (as outlined in this SocietyGuardian article, A History of Outsourcing, which explains how Conservative policies in the 1980s set the scene for offloading public survice provision onto private companies, an idea taken up with enthusiasm by the subsequent Labour government). But as the disparity between labour markets yawned wider and wider, and the communications networks were in place to exploit these discrepancies, it is now considerably cheaper to off-load tasks on the other side of the planet to take advantage of low cost and time-zone shifting.

Call centres are now key places of employment in developing countries ('why go offshore?'), with their own culture and social structures. See this account of Working life, interviews and leaflets in Delhi's call centre cluster, 2006, which notes that 'In many cases a nineteen year old call centre worker, e.g. daughter of a university professor or hospital doctor would earn more than her father.' The so-called 'Gurgaon Call Centre Cluster' (or 'Special Exploitation Zone', according to the Gurgaon Workers News) is where up to 200,00 people work for numerous international companies. 'The experiences of the new proletarianised middle class generation are characterised by a call centre job straight after school or university, the night shifts, the technological control and general pressure, the shared flats, the purchasing power, the expensive food in the neighbouring shopping malls, the long hours in cabs, the frequent job changes, the more open gender relations at work, the burn out, the difficulty to keep the perspective of an academic career or to find jobs as academics.'

Perhaps buoyed by the success of these out-of-sight, out-of-mind armies of disembodied voices, their time zones and small talk shifted so as not to arouse suspicions, the movers and shakers of the developed world are busy trying to find new things to off-load. These days there are few labour-intensive processes that can't be fobbed off to low wage nations - CAD, transcriptions, web coding, general admin, etc (even, allegedly, torture). The personal assistant is the latest role to be taken 'off site.' Back in the early online days (September 1998), outsourcing domestic help was a distinctly personal experience - tasks were handled by someone you actually saw ('Companies Are Busy Helping Those Who Are Busier', September 1998). Today, the 'Personal Assistants [are] on Call, Just Not in the Next Office' (November 2007), a new type of call centre is arriving, with people at your beck and call at the end of a phoneline.

*

Walmart, spreading like a virus, an animation / The Human Calendar, reminds us of the The Industorious Clock (sic) / The Laptop Club. Back in our day, our fantasy card and paper constructions were robots, not word processors / Dear Rockers, send five bucks to a musician you've wronged through file sharing, etc. (via projects) / Beef Cut Chart (via David Thompson).

Build a Sikorsky R-4 from card / a gallery of the TSR2, one of the great technological white elephants of British industrial culture (full story here), along with Blue Streak (tested on the Isle of Wight) and the Advanced Passenger Train / recreate the work of the Wright Brothers / Aerial Russia: The Romance of the Giant Aeroplane / Flight thru Instruments, a beautifully presented pilot training manual from 1945, scanned and posted by Telstar Logistics.

In honour of Amazon's clunky Kindle, read about the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa, an education centre that has a store where you can buy limited edition, hand bound books. See also the Center for Book Arts for limited editions / a dress a day / the world's highest fountain, evaporating into the hot desert air in Jeddah.