About seven months ago, I met an American guy who had arrived at New Zealand just a few days before. While exchanging our
sentiments (I am from Japan) on New Zealand and its culture, the guy told me how he was surprised to see the country is so
Americanised, mentioning McDonalds as one of the examples. Now, in a different sense, this was surprising to me, too. I had
never had the idea that having McDonalds is being Americanised. In fact, McDonalds is nearly everywhere in the world so that
many people think it has already become part of their own cultures. But then the question arises: How did this come to be the
case? Here is a brief outline of its history (based on Hebert, 1997; McDonalds Corp., 1997; Mclennan, 1996).
In 1937, McDonalds was founded as a small local restaurant by two brothers, Maurice and Richard McDonald in Pasadena,
California. In 1948, the brothers then converted their barbecue drive-in with car hops into limited-menu, self-service drive-in, in
San Bernardino, California – the first advent of quick service restaurant industry. It is in April 1955, however, that the real
McDonalds Corporation launched, by a salesman called Ray Kroc, who gained exclusive US franchising rights from the
brothers. Starting with Des Plaines, Illinois, McDonalds rapidly extended its outlets first over the Chicago area, then the US and
eventually all over the world, including two largest restaurants in Moscow (1990) and Beijing (1992), both with 700 seats. There
are currently over 21,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries (and about 100 in New Zealand), and the 1996 year-end
systemwide sales reached 31.812 billion dollars, 59 percent of which came from the outside of the US.
The worldwide business of McDonalds is not just a globalisation of its economy. In his book, The McDonaldization of Society,
the American sociologist Dr. George Ritzer (1993, cited by Allan, 1997) contends that it also represents the process of
rationalisation – … the master concept of Max Webers analysis of modern capitalism, referring to a variety of related processes
by which every aspect of human action became subject to calculation, measurement and control (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner,
1988, p.902, cited by Allan, 1997). According to Ritzer, McDonaldization can be understood in terms of the following aspects:
(1) Efficiency: To achieve a specific purpose, people tend to prefer the way that maximises the speed and minimises the cost.
However, in many spheres of society, such efficiency is defined for the sake of the industry or business, and people are
nevertheless led to believe that it is beneficial to themselves (Allan, 1997; Keel, 1997). Some examples include, ATM, self-service
petrol, or more recently, we began to serve drinks for ourselves in certain fast food restaurants.
(2) Calculability: This is the emphasis of the notion that the more, the better, as well as the faster, the better (Allan, 1997; Keel,
1997). That is, quantity and quickness are often equalised with quality. For instance, many people are prone to evaluate products in
terms of how much they sold within what period of time, whether they be CDs, films, cars, or even tourist attractions. Or else, as
for fast food, things like Extra Value Meals or Big Crunch (or Tower) Burger Combo are constantly offered, and they really do
please most customers.
(3) Predictability: Society is more and more structured and organised so that people can predict what will happen in particular
situations with reasonable accuracy (Allan, 1997; Keel, 1997). People expect the same procedures and tastes as last time in
restaurants, or enjoy sequels of movies, video games, TV series and the like with which they had pleasant experience before.
Buildings are constructed into similar layout with similar decorations.
(4) Control: Uncertainty, unpredictability and inefficiency get eliminated from any rationalising systems, and that is especially
manifested by the substitution of non-human for human technology (Allan, 1997; Keel, 1997). By this means, people have less to
think and work on their own, yet at the same time, less control over their own actions. For example, employees only have to follow
the instructions and push the buttons in fast food shops; supermarkets have replaced old registers with scanners; automatic
operation of trains is becoming prevalent, and so forth. Again, these are not for the interests of employees or customers, but for
those of employers.
Finally, Ritzer points out that this rationalisation, or McDonaldization, frequently yields, on the contrary, rather irrational results
(Allan, 1997; Keel, 1997).
Most specifically, irrationality means that rational systems are unreasonable systems. By that I mean that
they deny the basic humanity, the human reason, of the people who work within or are served by them
(Ritzer, 1994, p.154, cited by Keel, 1997).
After all, people make long queues to get fast food that is full of fat, cholesterol, sodium and other unhealthy ingredients, and then
take the trouble to dump the rubbish instead of the workers, which in turn becomes a source of pollution of the natural
environment. And this irrationality is not confined to fast food industry; McDonalds is only a metaphor that exemplifies the whole
processes of rationalisation, as has already been noted.
My Personal Rant
Since I am not a sociology-major student, my understanding of McDonaldization may not be accurate, and I certainly do not have
a clue on whether such phenomena are good or bad. Still, the point I want to make here is clear: Our societies are increasingly
reigned by global standards, which profoundly affect the way we think, process information, and interact with others. (Yes, I know
this is a kind of clich in psychology.) Without doubt, McDonalds and its ideas define part of our lives, and across cultures, we
definitely share certain commonalities, both materially and psychologically. The only concern that remains, however, is the fact
that the standardisation is typically based on the fashion preferred by those who are socially affluent or culturally dominant. In this
regard, the same is true for the internet system. Surely, this technology is a revolutionary tool that not only removes boundaries
from the realms of our social interactions, but also pushes further the potential of human cognitive development. Nonetheless,
information found on the net is the product of people who have access to computers, with inevitable reflection of their own
personal or social viewpoints.