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Same Stuff, Different Place: Traveling in the Age of McDonaldization

Why do we travel to far off places? We say that we want “to get away” and “leave it all behind,” but do we really? Do our actions match our words?

Think about the last few times you traveled. Did the room(s) you slept in look a lot like the room you left at home? What about the meals you ate? Did you dine on something you’ve never eaten before? Finally, think about what you did for fun while you were away. Did you have a lot of first time experiences?

From my non-scientific anecdotal observations, most of us leave home only to recreate the same daily routines we seemed to so earnestly want to get away from. Instead we stay at the Best Western, drink Starbucks, eat at chain restaurants, and go shopping, swimming, drinking, to the movies, or any of the other things we can do at home. It would seem that, for the most of us, we want to do the same old things , just in new places[1].

That people want to recreate their home routines while away doesn’t really say that much about society, but the fact that they so easily can recreate their routines does. While we may take it for granted, we should be awed by the fact that you can go nearly anywhere in the U.S. (and increasingly anywhere in the world) and have an almost identical experience. The sociologist George Ritzer would suggest that this is all made possible because of the phenomenon he calls The McDonaldization of Society.

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Putting the McDonald’s Back into McDonaldization

McDonald’s restaurant once served as a model of rationality; customers would come in and be feed ina smooth, precise, and efficient standardized process. Today, its bloated menu (with oodles of choices and combinations) threatens its reputation as the standard for rationality. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how McDonald’s is putting the McDonald’s back into McDonaldization.

McDonald's Happy Meal Box

George Ritzer coined the term McDonaldization to describe how McDonald’s restaurant provided an archetype of rationality, which served as a model for other bureaucracies. Rationality refers to how bureaucracies come to operate under formal rules and procedures. A bureaucracy is characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a division of labor, reliance on written rules, and impersonality of positions. For example, your college is an example of a bureaucracy. Let’s get back to McDonald’s.

Ritzer chose McDonald’s because of its pervasiveness throughout not only the United States (where you are never more than 107 miles from one in the lower 48), but throughout the world (they serve 1% of the world every day). McDonald’s is seen as a powerful business success and a symbol of America.

Principles of McDonalidzation include:

  • Efficiency
  • Predictability
  • Calculability
  • Control

How do these principles exist within McDonald’s?

Efficiency refers to “the optimum method for getting from one point to another” (Ritzer 2006:15). Think about the assembly line method of food production in a McDonald’s restaurant. Instead of one person making your complete meal, the task is split up into its basic components along a hamburger assembly line. This means your meal gets to you more quickly….

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Why You Stink At Creating Social Change

Our world is filled with signs yelling at people to clean up their messes, follow the rules, etc. and yet almost no one abides by them. Why are signs like these so ineffective and how does this illustrate how bad we are at creating social change? In this piece Nathan Palmer addresses both those questions and cautions against falling in the rational actor trap and falling for the fundamental attribution error.

“PLEASE DON’T PUT SODA BOTTLES IN THE FREEZER!!! THEY EXPLODE!!!” Signs like this are plastered across the break room refrigerators all over the world. They always make me laugh. I wonder what effect the person who wrote the sign thought it would have:

  • Sheila walks into the break room warm soda in hand. Gripping the freezer door handle Sheila reads the warning and says to herself, “wait, soda bottles will explode in the freezer? I had no idea. Boy am I glad I got this timely message just before I made a mistake. I’ll put this in the refrigerator.”

Signs like this are everywhere. There’s a sign in the dirty bathroom that says, “it’s your responsibility to clean up after yourself!!!” Go to the dog park and you’ll see, “Clean up after your dog!” on a sign surrounded by piles of dog poop. When the lights go out at the movie theater a “please shut off your cell phone” sign is partially visible over all the illuminated cell phones in the crowd.

All of these messages have a few things in common. First they are hung in a communal space. Second they tell readers something they probably already know. And finally, the signs are fantastically ineffective at creating social change. Signs like these illustrate one of the reasons we all stink at creating social change.

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Why THESE IDIOTS Just Won’t Change.

When we think about other people’s behavior why are we so quick to think they are ignorant, irrational, or idiotic? Many of us are quick to call other people names and judge their behaviors, but we are far more understanding of our own behavior. In this post Nathan Palmer argues that the fundamental attribution error is to blame for our gross misunderstandings of others.

When was the last time you completely changed your mind because someone screamed at you and made you feel like an idiot? I’m guessing… never? Then why do so many people “unleash the fury” with the CAPS LOCK key on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube comments?

The sociologist inside of all of us should be asking, “If yelling at ‘idiots’ isn’t effective why do so many of us do it?” Why do we think our yelling will be effective when we do it? The answer can be found in understanding the fundamental attribution error (a concept borrowed from social psychology). Put simply, the reason you do things is because of your circumstances, but the reason other people do things is because of who they are fundamentally as a person.

For example, think back to the last time you sped. You probably did it because you “had to” get somewhere important. But now think back to the last time a speeding driver cut you off. I doubt you rolled your window down, stuck your head out, threw your fist in the air and shouted, “I completely understand your seemingly reckless behavior is due to the set of circumstances you find yourself in and I empathize with you my brother!” No, you probably thought, “That guy’s a maniac and he needs to be stopped!” He is a maniac at his core. You are simply a person speeding because of your circumstances.

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