Developments in technology have accelerated our advances as a species over the past 200 years greater than nearly all of human history combined.
This has resulted in the global culture evolving at an exponential rate over the past one to two hundred years. These new developments have lead to some very interesting behaviors across cultures, especially those of the Western world. Businesses, corporations, schools, media, and so much more have sought to increase efficiency through calculability, uniformity, and control through automation. George Ritzer defines this idea as "The McDonaldization of society."¹ The McDonaldization of society is defined as, "the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world."¹ While this definition nuances the fast-food industry the processes involved are far from new.
Fredrick Winslow Taylor, an American mechanical engineer, developed what is known today as Taylorism early in the 20th century.
Taylor saw that factories and other businesses could be improved through what he called "Scientific Management."² In his paper, "The Principles of Scientific Management", Taylor explains that businesses should be ran in a scientific manner which had four guiding principles. These principles were as follows:
"First. They develop a science for each element of a man's work, which replaces the old rule-of-thumb method. Second. They scientifically select and then train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself as best he could. Third. They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed. Fourth. There is an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management take over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen, while in the past almost all of the work and the greater part of the responsibility were thrown upon the men."
-The Principles of Scientific Management, Fredrick Winslow Taylor
Taylor focused on creating the most efficient workplace through determined calculability.
His paper describes methods by which an individual is to determine the most efficient movements to complete a task in which the observer uses a stop-watch to time the worker and then go back and "eliminate all false movements, slow movements, and useless movements."² These principles then began to pervade the American work culture, then spread through the cultures of other nations.
The McDonaldization of society began much before the fast-food industry became a widespread phenomenon with the first White Castle being established in 1921 and the first McDonald's in 1953.³
The more we look around as our societies continue to progress, the more that we see the same processes of standardization and means of "increasing efficiency". This idea is so prevalent in our culture that we have developed an abstract term to define it- Cookie-cutter. First appearing in the The Chicago Sunday Tribune, February 1922, the term "cookie-cutter" is used to describe a template used to develop a wide array of things (nearly anything) in mass.⁴ These cookie-cutter designs severely reduce originality. However, originality becoming more and more rare has lead to an increase in the value of custom designing.
Custom designs have become so valuable because one major factor in the endeavor of increasing efficiency is the control through automation.
Production companies have replaced physical workers with automated machines that work more quickly and are less prone to errors. Assembly lines are controlled through automation to mass produce the same item over and over. Business owners seem to desire a machine that cannot get sick or pregnant or be called in for jury duty over a human life which may fall ill and cost the company profits.
Thus, the strive towards efficiency, calculability, uniformity, and control through automation has brought forth the standardization and uniformity of our societies globally.
The McDonaldization of society brings cookie-cutter templates for the products we consume, and automation puts profits over human needs while simultaneously increasing the value of originality. With these principles guiding our global society the question then becomes whether these processes are beneficial or deleterious to our growth as a species.
¹: Giddeons, et al. "Introduction to Sociology," W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. pp.153-154.
³: Taylor, Fredrick W. "THE PRINCIPLES OF SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT," 1911.
³: “Fast Food and Malnutrition.” University of Oregon Sites, blogs.uoregon.edu/charligf13gateway/timeline/.
⁴: Martin, Gary. “'Cookie Cutter' - the Meaning and Origin of This Phrase.” Phrasefinder, www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cookie-cutter.html.
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