The McDonaldization of society may sound somewhat misleading but the term actually refers to the rationalization of society. The use of the word “McDonaldization” just simply indicates that the fast-food restaurant is one of many great examples of rationality. Ritzer discusses five dimensions that characterize rationality or a rationalized society: efficiency, predictability, calculability, the use and preference of non-human technology, and control over uncertainty. The five characteristics can be noticed in various aspects of society which exemplifies the extent that rationality affects our society and societies worldwide. In this paper, I will summarize Ritzer’s discussion of these five characteristics and give possible examples of each dimension.
First, efficiency refers to the most efficient or best means to an end. Ritzer uses the fast-food restaurant as an example of the best means to obtain a meal, instead of actually preparing food at home. Individuals no longer have to go out to the supermarket, buy food and bring it home, prepare it over a hot stove, and let’s not forget the tedious task of hand-washing the dishes. To avoid all these steps people can just drive down the street and pick up their meals from a fast-food restaurant. Today, the inside lines can even be avoidable with the addition of the drive-through window. There are many advantages to the fast-food restaurant, but as Ritzer explains there are also “irrationalities of rationality.” In the example of the fast-food restaurant, to prepare meals as cheaply, quickly, and easily as possible the health of individuals eating such foods is quite often sacrificed. America has experienced an increase in the average weight of its citizens. More children suffering from obesity at younger ages, the occurrence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are also increasing.
Ritzer does not give any recommendations for reducing this particular problem of rationalization, but he does point out that certain sacrifices are made to ensure efficiency. Predictability is the second dimension of rationalization. People in rational societies prefer to avoid surprises when they enter a particular situation. Discipline, routine, and systemization are just a few things that ensure predictability. This summer I volunteered to canvass for environmental organizations. Canvassing refers to the process of going door-to-door to raise money for some cause. People who canvass are trained to do the exact same routine with each neighbourhood they visit. Speeches, gestures, and even the tone of your voice follow a specific pre-planned manner. It’s almost as if you become a programmed robot with a list of homes to visits, a memorized speech, and gestures and tones that were practiced with the group earlier. Someone has already decided and figured out the most effective methods and volunteers just follow this method brainlessly.
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Calculability is just a nicer term than quantity over quality. Ritzer argues that calculability or the emphasis on quantifiable measures is the most defining dimension of rationality. Ritzer uses the SATs and GPAs as examples. In fact, even as I write this paper I am more concerned about the grade I will receive rather than how much I really understand Ritzer’s argument. A fourth aspect of rationalization is the move from human technology to non-human technology. In the setting of Davidson College, the substitution of non-human technologies can be seen in the excessive use of the computer. For example, when registering for classes students just sign on to a computer, enter the I.D. number of the course they desire, and randomly generated numbers determine who receives what classes and in what order these classes are assigned. Students do not even have to go to other people for help or assistance on using the web tree because instructions and pictorial diagrams are included on the website.
Outside of the Davidson community students do even attend actual classes anymore. There are numerous colleges and universities that offer online courses which eliminate the need to go to class, receive instruction from a teacher, or personally interact with classmates for discussion. Education has been reduced to just sitting at a computer and interacting only with the keyboard and the screen. With schools like the University of Phoenix, it can be assumed that a student can go through their entire education career without ever meeting a professor or classmates face-to-face. Lastly, rational societies focus on controlling uncertainties in almost every aspect of life. In canvassing, the memorization of speeches and the use of pre-determined gestures and tones helps reduce the uncertainties associated with using human technologies.
Instead of actually using robots to canvass organizations, the volunteers and personnel working on the fundraising effort are turned into robots. Or, with the use of the web tree Davidson controls the uncertainties of registering for a class. Students have specific numbers that indicate in what order they are assigned a class; “first come, first serve” no longer applies. There are no lines in the Registrar’s Office and the school designates certain times and dates in which students can register using the web tree. The uncertainties of class registration are controlled, as well as the students. Rationalization has affected nearly every society worldwide and the above situations are just a few examples of rationalization.