Friday, February 19, 2010

McDonaldization and Starbuckization

Posted McDonaldization and Starbuckization over at the Social Lens.

“I’ll have a Big Mac, Filet of Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries..icy Coke, Big Shake, Sundae, and Apple Pie…”–yeah, I didn’t need to Google that to find the lyrics, that was from memory.

That was a popular “nursery rhyme” when I was younger, a chippy jingle by McDonald’s that served its purpose: to lure me in like the sad fast food sap that I am.

I’m sure you can relate, but what is it that can be made of this “McDonaldization of Society”? George Ritzer uses McDonald’s as the primary example to illustrate the modernization of society, a move from cultures built on tradition to cultures that are mechanized and highly organized.

The principles that Ray Kroc used to build his food empire have been modeled in businesses from motor companies to coffee: 1. efficiency, 2. predictability, 3. uniformity, and 4. control. Look at the pervasiveness of both McDonald’s and Starbucks in the world. This graph dates back to 2003, so imagine the extent this pervasiveness has grown over the past seven years. Notice the profit versus the gross domestic product of Afghanistan.

To what extent have these principles of economic productivity spilled over into the various groups and institutions by which we associate in daily life? How has the fast food culture come to characterize how we live?

Ritzer built on his ideas surrounding McDonaldization and provides an updated and extended version of his analysis with the concept of Starbuckization. Hear some of Ritzer’s thoughts on the role and influence of Starbucks as a global business chain at the video below.

Ritzer mentions his focus on structures. How do businesses and the models they employ promote efficiency, predictability, uniformity, and control? Why are these important in terms of profit? How do the business structures affect employee productivity? How do they affect creativity? Innovation? Morale? In what ways is a highly organized bureaucracy good or bad?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who Are You?

Posted over at the Social Lens blog.

In a previous post (Facebook and Connection) I introduced some concepts related to Georg Simmel’s work around associations and sociability. One of the more popular self help gurus of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been Stephen Covey. An extension of Covey’s work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” involves a retreat and an examination of one’s circles.

Each of us as individuals can gain great depth of understanding of who we are by examining the positions we hold in society (status) and the expectations of those positions (role). These are philosophical and questions of meaning that have been explored for quite sometime.
Let me provide a brief introduction to the video below. This is a studio snapshot of The Who, you know, that band that played at halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl? For most Who fans, this is The Who that we would rather you come to know and love. This is a song of theirs, not part of the Super Bowl medley, called “Who Are You”.

So let’s explore the question, posed by Simmel, Covey, The Who, and thousands over time, “Who Are You”?

Considering the social institutions (particularly the Family, Education, and the Economy), what social positions do you occupy in society? Social positions in this regard are not necessarily paid work. For example, within the institution of the Family I am a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, amongst other status positions I hold in the social institution of the Family. With each of those positions, I hold a role or a variety of roles: social expectations for any given social status. What is expected of me as a father, a husband, etc..?

Take a few minutes to list all of your social statuses (think about your social position in relation to the Family, Education, and the Economy). Then list your roles for your various positions. As you begin working through this you can to see the variety of “persons” you are in the world. As you list roles, you can begin to see the variety of expectations that you have of yourself and the expectations that others have of you. To add another layer, what is it that defines the social positions we occupy, and the expectations of those positions? How do we learn our “roles”?

So….Who Are You?

For the Love of...Consumerism

Updated in Nov. 2019 due to breaks in links

Posted over at the Social Lens blog.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day!!!!

….wait, humor me for a minute. Would you rather celebrate a holiday for its meaning or are you moved by the overload of consumerism that surrounds our holidays?

Don’t get me wrong, I like to celebrate events, holidays, birthdays, just about anything. But I have found that the consumerism in my environment, the availability of too much “stuff”, has gotten to be so much of an overload that I’m turned off from celebrating. That’s a difficult thing for me to consider, because I try to focus on the intent of events (why the celebration is occurring).

That picture above is not an example of overload in and of itself. But let me clarify something: that is a picture I took at my local grocery store on New Year’s Day. Doing some last minute shopping on Valentine’s Day a friend I ran into nearly purchased an Easter gift for Valentine’s Day: the marketing and promotions from Easter goodies had mixed in with the Valentine’s Day goodies. Valentine’s Day on January 1? Easter on Valentine’s Day? Do I need to mention when Christmas decorations and Christmas merchandise starts to appear?

I suppose what really opened my eyes to the consumerism of any particular holiday season was when I began to uncover the origin of diamonds. Remember: diamonds are a girl’s best friend. If you are going to marry someone in the United States, it most likely will involve an engagement ring and/or a wedding band: with a diamond. Diamonds, much like red roses, are two of the most popular symbols of love in the United States.

Do consumers bear some responsibility for their consumer habits? Who, if anyone, should accept some level of responsibility when the market plays unfair? Does it matter?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Facebook and Connection

Posted Facebook and Connection over at the Social Lens blog.

All the world is Facebooked, Twittered, MySpaced, Googled….connected.

I have been particularly interested in themes related to connection in my physical community since around the year 2000. One of my areas of focus as a Sociologist is the Sociology of Community. Among German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s many contributions is his work examining group size and relationships. What is integral to the study of community are relationships and connection.

In the year 2000 a major work in the social sciences was published by Robert Putnam, a book entitled “Bowling Alone“. This book was a national bestseller and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. Putnam’s work spoke to the loss of attachment and connection that people had with one another and how the sense of community had declined over the period of the 1970s-1990s.

A basic level research question that I have examined over the past several years is how does the role of internet technology, particularly social networking sites and services, impact relationships and connections? On a practical level, have Facebook and other social networking services played an important role in meeting the needs of connection and interaction of people not only in the United States, but the world? Is the void that Putnam highlighted now being filled through the internet?

Let’s examine Facebook a little more closely. Literally. Let’s look at my “connections”.

Below is a Facebook application I used back in February of 2008 to map my connections.

I decided to take another snapshot of my friends one year later in February of 2009. That’s it below.

Notice in the friend wheel above that you can now barely see my name. I’m literally “covered up with friends”. This makes me feel loved, connected, friended when I look at this.

Then this month, I took another snapshot of my friends list. Check this out.

When I first looked at this, it reminded of the sun, or the Earth. Have my friends and me transcended something extraordinary?

I absolutely love the Friend Wheel application. It’s striking to see my visual connections. My “connections” have grown to nearly 300 “friends” over the past three years. Sure, I have a large quantity of friends, but do I have quality relationships too? If you are on Facebook, look at your friends list. How would you characterize your friends? Are they from high school, former boyfriends/girlfriends? Family? Neighbors?

After characterizing your friends, now think about those you maintain contact with, whether physically or visually, on a regular basis. Some of these may also be Facebook friends. What is the difference between “real life friends” and “Facebook friends”? Do you consider the Facebook friends real? What is the purpose of Facebook?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Girl Like Me

Posted A Girl Like Me post over at The Social Lens.

Socialization is characterized as the life long social experience by which individuals develop their human potential and learn culture. The socialization process begins soon after birth, as babies are cared for (or not) by their parents or other loved ones from their family. Of course that experience is as varied as there are cultures in our world. We begin to learn at a very early age how to love, to hate, to care for, to fight, and to ultimately relate to other people in our society.

We also learn our position in society, particularly in terms of social class, gender, and race. We are influenced by history and the social norms of society. Norms aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but we gauge ourselves to the cultural standards in society, and as Mead would characterize, we develop that sense of self.

As an example of how we internalize what we perceive in society, watch the “Girl Like Me” video below. 

Many students question the validity of these girls’ interpretations of what others think about them. Keep in mind these are the experiences of these girls, right or wrong, and it is the “job” of the Sociologist to ask the critical questions as to why.

What shapes their viewpoints? What popular messages in society influence their perceptions? What ideas and/or behaviors have they garnered from their family and peers that influences their sense of self?

Social Interaction and Technology

Due to broken links, the following post has been updated in November 2019.

Just made this post over at The Social Lens: Social Interaction and Technology.

I authored a blog post in early January entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. That post addressed the influence of technology on the current generation, using terms to identify the younger generation such as “Wired, Wireless, Mobile, Open, Participatory, and Empowered”.

We tend to have informal conversations in my department from time to time around the use of web 2.0 technologies, particularly Facebook and Twitter. It is obvious, as was reflected in the the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants post, that there is a very large gap regarding the use of information technology and devices between the younger and older generations in the United States.

Part of those informal discussions we have around our department involve the environment of the classroom versus the environment of the virtual classroom. Does online learning (learning through the internet, using Facebook and Twitter) meet the same standards and achieve the same results as the traditional classroom setting? There are a variety of issues to be addressed regarding online learning, some of which can be found here.

This is a topic of much consideration of faculty and students at varies institutions across the United States, and the world. Taking that notion one step further, if young people are using the internet so frequently, along with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace (see this report providing indication that teens don’t tend to use Twitter that much), then we begin to need to address this fundamental change in a new form of social interaction, forming new communities.

This is the basis of social networking sites: networking through interaction, encouraging negotiation, communication, and collaboration.

During our informal discussion today, I mentioned the community or personal learning network I had established through my use of Facebook and Twitter. A colleague replied, “But that’s not community.”

Can we have meaningful social interactions without physical appearance? How does current internet technology facilitate better social interaction? Does the technology hinder social relationships? How do the changes wrought by recent technologies differ than say the invention of the telephone? In your opinion, do our relationships benefit or suffer as a result of the use of technology? Can we have community through online interaction?