Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where's my librarian?

I like technology as much as the next person, maybe more. I love being able to do research from the comforts of my home and search the internet and blog and put off doing real work by "hanging out" on Facebook. But, at some point, I think it's just too much. Even putting aside the environmental cost of technology (I mean, whether or not you believe in God or if you think "mother earth" is in control, I feel like it's obvious that we are not taking care of our planet and we are out of our "natural" habitat and man is using his power to do things other than good), I just think the McDonaldization aspect has spun out of control. (The McDonaldization of Society is an awesome book by George Ritzer--even if you're not a sociologist--that basically tells how all aspects of society have taken McDonald's principles and run with them. Now they dominate tons of sectors of society.)

As an undergrad, working in a bank, I wrote a paper on the McDonaldization of the banking industry. It's a PERFECT example (that I often use in my teaching of undergrad classes now) of how McDonaldization takes over sectors of society. For example, what do you get when you go to McDonalds? No matter where you go in the world, you will have the same menu--complete with numbers so you don't even have to say the actual names of the food. Ritzer's work is based on Weber's (a classical sociologist) five characteristics of bureaucracy: division of labor, hierarchy of authority, written rules and regulations, impersonality, and specific technical (but simplistic) qualifications. That pretty much sums up fast food, right? You know who works the cash register, who cooks your food, who the manager is to complain to, and the excecutives out of the restaurants that rake in the big bucks. At the McDonald's here, they even have a push-button greeting (instead of someone saying hi) when you go through the drive thru--impersonality is an understatement. The employees must follow the rules and really only need to know how to push the button with the number that corresponds to your order. (Think about the chaos that ensues when you want no onions or light mayo!) So it's easy to put that into the context of something like banking--with drive-thrus, ATMs, and statistical programs that tell you whether or not you can get a loan--based on NO personal information at all.

As usual, I'm rambling...even though I love technology, it has its drawbacks. And I think there are some areas that we should just leave alone--like books. I would still rather read a real newspaper or a book I can hold in my hand than something online. I am okay with it being offered online, but I still want the option for my paper copies. And when I go to the library (you know, the home of the REAL books) I want it to be more tangible "stuff" than technology.

I went to the library at UT the other day, and as I was scanning my ID card and my books to check them out myself, my mind wandered to Ritzer. Seriously? Even libraries are McDonaldized??? What happened to the friendly librarian? Good grief!

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