Monday, January 23, 2006

Life - private or shared?

George Ritzer - The Macdonaldization of Society

Ritzer identifies four characteristics of McDonalds:
1. Efficiency – everything is fast, your in, your fed, your out
2. Calculability – you know how long it takes and what it will cost to eat at McDonalds
3. Predictability – you will get the same big mac every time you order one
4. Control – mechanization – the assembly line, from making the burgers to ordering

About a month ago my wife and I were going to take a weekend to go skiing in Banff.  I was faced with the conflict of choosing a place to stay.  We wanted a romantic private getaway, something small and quite so we thought a bed and breakfast would be nice.  I have never actually stayed at one though and this fact raised some anxiety for me, what would it be like to share space with complete strangers, pay to stay at someone’s home, what kind of awkward situations would this manifest?  Would I have to slide the cash across the table?  Would there be awkward silence during breakfast if they ate with us, would they stand in the hallway looking at us as we ate the food they had prepared?  What time would we have to be checked-in, awake for breakfast?  

These are the questions McDonalds endeavours to answer by creating a uniform scripted experience.  It offers privacy and convenience, I don’t have to bend my schedule or test my conversation skills, and my etiquette only has to be rudimentary.  They have replaced human connection with privacy, a theme that fits quite well into what Mumford has to say about society.  

The founder of McDonalds has taken a page out of the Grand Inquisitor’s book, “we will take their freedom from them and they will beg us to do it and worship us because of it.”  

Kors wrote about the fact that capitalism rewards people who fulfill needs.  I think McDonalds has shown that those people who are rewarded don’t fulfill needs but wants, some real and some advertised.  Don’t lose the distinction between wants and needs, we would be living in a different world if it were needs.    

PS. We didn’t go away that weekend because I had too much homework.

1 comment:

malachijones said...

The conformity of society and societal values and processes is necessary in order to maintain our consumer-driven economy and culture.

Not to sound too much like an nay-sayer or conspiracy theorist but there is a reality that following WWII and the industrial/economic boom of wartime there was an economic vacuum that needed to be filled. Many administrations of western powers decided to fill this vacuum by creating an artifically stimulated, consumer economy which has continually grown over the past 6 decades.

Initially it was "harmlessly" selling products that promised to make the lives of all of conquering heroes more tolerable after having lived through the ravages of war. But it didn't take long for this non-threatening, luxury consumerism to morph into a full-fledge consumeristic juggernaut that simply repeats the cycle of manufactoring a need (i.e. electric nose hair trimmers), advertising these products to potential customers - often using a manipulative, fear-based approach (i.e. "nobody will date a man with excessive nose hair; or, "If you don't smoke you will not be considered cool - and you'll have no friends".), and finally filling these created needs with poorly manufactored or unethically manufactored products specifically designed to not have a long shelf life. All this to stimulate economies (and investments) based on overvalued GDP's and investment speculation.

Where this connects back to your post though is that in order to ensure the streamlining and promotion of these consumer products the need to create uniformity and consistency was imperative. Everyone knows that the quality of hand made furniture far surpasses the quality found at Wal-Mart or Ikea but because they have 1) managed to efficiently (and cost-effectively) create a global supply chain they can offer reduced prices; and 2)they have by homogenizing their consumer outlets they have established an ease of familiarity about them which takes the entire guesswork out of purchasing products. We know we are buying crap but we still do it because it is easy and cheap...ahh, consumerism.

What is troubling now is that as companies continue to seek out higher profit margins they are realizing that, in many cases, they have already outsourced as much as possible as well as saturated the market with their product advertising - they must now find a new method of increasing earnings. They have fabricated rival products, as seen in the upcoming DVD format wars, as well as intentionally putting greater emphasis on single-usage products and pitching them as the next big thing.

This has a horrible affect on contemporary society because we struggle then to harmonize this considerable, mechanistic approach to life with what people intrinsically feel is the "proper way to live" - slower, enjoyable, qualitative. We get confused. We begin to treat our families like products, we see value experiences as part of our personal supply-chain to achieve some economic end. All the while we believe that we are "above all this" and that we are affected by this consumerism...but in truth, we are. We buy pre-packaged revolution, apathy, coolness, and techy-ness.

What a bummer? Solutions: ??? I don't know...but ultimately I think it is tied to our human ability and personal need to be original. If we create than we do not need to be sold to. For some that is creating our own livilehoods...others it is creating our own furniture. Creation and Quality...worth thinking about.