The industrial revolution has continuously redefined the relationship between man and machine. Never more so than in 1913, when Henry Ford introduced the first assembly line at his Michigan car plant. Now people had to work at the pace of the conveyor belt and for the rest of the twentieth century, until robots began to replace people, factory work entailed the repetition of a single task, producing boredom and anxiety in the workers, but alongside a huge surge in affordable manufactured goods. The writer and broadcaster AL Kennedy asks whether this moment, the introduction of the assembly line, is when we stopped being fully human? 'Production Line Living' is broadcast as a companion to Radio 3's 2013 Free Thinking festival at Sage Gateshead, which is asking "Who's in Control?".
From Charlie Chaplin's hapless, alienated factory worker in Modern Times to Pink Floyd's hammer-headed teacher in 'The Wall' smashing kids into their allotted moulds, AL Kennedy explores the impact and the idea of the production line. She argues that not only did it create the circumstances for mass consumption but it also enabled a 'unitised' redefinition of humanity, for example through the development of time and motion studies, which influenced everything from education and psychology to body size, living spaces, and even the way in which we express our thoughts and aspirations.
Speaking to factory workers, sociologists and psychologists, AL Kennedy teases out how the production line has impacted on our everyday lives, colouring the ways in which we understand ourselves.
Producer: Mark Smalley
BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival takes place at Sage Gateshead 25-27 October and is broadcast for three weeks on Radio 3 from Friday 25 October.