Saturday, June 16, 2018

Moving packages

Yesterday I went to a seminar organised at my university (Maastricht University) by the Department of Knowledge Engineering, to celebrate 25 years of their work on artificial intelligence. One of the presenters Andreas Weigend was a former scientist at Amazon, the digital company now gone physical.

While everyone is talking about the innovations of Amazon at the moment, an article in The Atlantic argues that we should be looking at an earlier company, Sears, as one of the significant forerunners of the Amazon revolution.

Sears started as a mailing company, with watches, and quickly grew. To manage it's mail order business it built "massive warehouses, like its central facility in Chicago, in which messages to various departments and assembly workers were sent through pneumatic tubes".

The logistics of such organisations are fascinating as they grow and evolve with the times, the materiality of the movement of objects no less important now, despite email and other digital messages.

Image of Sears Roebuck & Company Mail Order Plant basement, Section H of the pneumatic tube network, Chicago, from Library of Congress.