A Return to the Putting Out System
The system of work before the industrial revolution of the mid-18th century was the putting out system. In this system, the merchant provided the artisan with raw materials. The artisan worked on the raw materials in his home, and supplied the finished product to the merchant-trader. The industrial revolution saw the institution of large machinery and the establishment of factories. The economies of scale of the resultant mass production soon put an end to the putting out system.
The factory system resulted in a great social upheaval. People flocked from their houses in the countryside and set up dwelling near the factories, leading to the establishment of many industrial towns. The machines set the pace of work, and factory owners expected humans to catch up. The new work ethic oriented people’s life and lifestyle around work, and looked down on idleness, frivolity, and anything that did not add value to their occupation. Soon a career became the primary and very often the sole objective of a person’s ambition. The present day concepts of orienting education for the sake of a career, commuting to office, relocating for the sake of work, the 9 to 5 of fixed work timings, the separation between work and life, and the overall corporate work culture traces its origins to the industrial revolution and its aftermath.
Will telecommuting change society?
Telecommuting is poised to change all this and return the society back to the days of the putting out system. Just as in the putting out system, the “merchant" employer provides work, the telecommuting worker uses the tools in her home, usually the computer to process work and send it back to the employer.