George Ritzer Discusses Consumption

George Ritzer Discusses Consumption

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING][Consumption][How would you define consumption?What is the importance of studying it?]

    • 00:15

      GEORGE RITZER: You know, historically we livedin a society which is dominated by production,dominated by work. [George Ritzer, PhD -Distinguished University Professor,University of Maryland - Assistant Professor,Wellesley College] And we've always thought that way and wecontinue to think that way.But the fact is that much more, of much greater importancethese days is consumption in comparison to production.But we kind of ignore that.We think of consumption as a trivial sort of thing.

    • 00:37

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And we think of work as somethingas important and as dominant.But the fact is that at least 70% of the American economyis accounted for by consumption.China, which is a production-oriented society,is desperately trying to move in a consumption direction.So consumption is very important,but it's trivialized.It's like it's not important.

    • 00:58

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: But it's absolutely crucial to our economy.In fact, if you look at our economy,the amount of the economy accountedfor by traditional sort of productionis very small and declining.And so the big companies in the United Statesare McDonald's, Walmart,'re not producing anything.

    • 01:19

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: They're consumption-oriented companies,and that's sort of the direction in which society is going.So that's at the macro level, I think,in terms of talking about the importance of consumption.At the micro level, arguably, to most people,consumption is much more important to themthan their work.

    • 01:39

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And they live for their consumption.And I've written about sort of consumptionis becoming a kind of religion.And particularly I've written about whatI call the cathedrals of consumption,in that religious idea of Disney World, and shopping malls,and places like that, where people go to practice

    • 02:03

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: a consumer religion.And so it's not just an economic activity,it's not just a social activity, ithas a kind of religious quality to it.In fact, shopping malls are builton the model of cathedrals and havemany of the characteristics of cathedrals.

    • 02:23

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And they're big and spacious and designed to awe the consumer.Las Vegas casinos, similarly designed in that kind of way,just as the old cathedral was designedto awe the religious worshipper.So it has much more economic meaning.It has a religious quality.

    • 02:44

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: It's just very meaningful to people, maybe arguably,far more meaningful than it should be.But in the contemporary world, consumptionis highly meaningful, perhaps more meaningful than workto most people.[How do prosumption and shadow work relate to beinga consumer?]It was 2007 I was invited to a conference on prosumption

    • 03:08

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: in Germany.And as is the case many times in my life,I had never heard of prosumption,and had not really ever thought about it.It's a concept that Alvin Tofflerhad written about several decades ago in Future Shock.But it was a minor part, or was not really the central partof what he had done.

    • 03:29

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And so since then, I've done a lotof thinking about and a lot of writing about prosumption,and come to the realization that allof what we consider to be consumption,and even all of what we consider to be production,are prosumption.Prosumption is the interrelated processof production and consumption.And so my view now is that all of the consumption we do,

    • 03:54

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: we're consuming obviously when we consume,but we're producing various things when we consume.So when we go to McDonald's, we'vegot to produce our own soda, or take care of our own debrisafter we're finished.So there's a productive aspect to consumption.When we're ordering on,we're there to consume a product,but we're producing our own order.

    • 04:16

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: But on the other side, production obviouslyinvolves production, but all productioninvolves consumption.You're always consuming somethingwhen you are producing anything.In the classic production sense, you'reconsuming raw materials in order to produce your end product.So what I think of now is a continuum from, well,

    • 04:40

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: using the terms "consumption" on one end and "production"on the other hand.But thinking of the whole continuum as a prosumptioncontinuum.[How do we perform shadow work in our everyday lives?]This is unpaid work that we're doing for organizations.And when we're prosuming, most often weare doing work for the organization,

    • 05:01

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and we're not being paid for it.So there's a tremendous overlap between the conceptsof shadow work and prosumption.But basically, any self-service undertaking is his term "shadowwork," my term, "prosumption."So we're doing work that used to be done by paid employees,but we're now doing it for nothing.

    • 05:22

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And when we check into hotels now, and with self-checkin,self-checkin in airports.When we log on to, we'redoing the work that people at a bookstore used to do.More subtly, when we log on to Facebook,we are providing them free of charge tremendous information

    • 05:46

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: about ourselves that they used to haveto hire at a great expense marketing expertsto try to find that information out.And of course, they never could find out as much informationas we're freely providing to them.What I always say is that Mark Zuckerbergis the multi-billionaire he is becauseof all the free information that we give to him.Jeff Bezos of has said

    • 06:09

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: that he's much more interested in the information he getsfrom the order for a product than heis in us buying the product.There's little or no profit for him in terms of that product,but what's enormous for him is this tremendous databasethat he's collecting.And all of this--Every time we sign in to look at books, or any kind of product,

    • 06:30

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: we are providing all kinds of information to himthat he can use in various ways, but also that hecan sell in various ways.So these are all prosumption activitiesbecause we're producing as we're consuming,consuming as we're producing.And for me, what's most important about this iswe're not really aware of it.And we're not really aware from my point of view

    • 06:53

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: that we're really being exploitedby these organizations.Not only we're being exploited, but we're puttingother people out of work.There are lots of people out of work todaybecause we're doing that work for nothing.[Why do people allow themselves to become prosumers?What are the benefits?]Well I think in the computer age,we've become accustomed to doing this.

    • 07:13

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: It's the way we do most of the things on the internet.It's another sort of internet activity that we do,and it's not very different from all sorts of other internetactivities that we do.We're used to doing things ourselves.It has a kind of gain-like quality to it.We like being on our own, not relying on other people.

    • 07:34

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: It's sort of like self-checkout at a supermarket.You deal with so many inept people at the checkout counter,and they purposely hire people who are inept at itso you go and you say, I'm not goingto deal with that and the person,I'm going to go check out things myself.So there's this kind of increasing mentalityof doing it yourself.The technology is set up to do it yourself.

    • 07:55

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And from my point of view, this goes to Max Weber's ideaof an iron cage.You know, increasingly what happensis as we do more and more of these things,the alternatives shift.So you see more and more lanes at the supermarketwhich are self-checkout.More and more places at the airportwhere you can't see people.

    • 08:16

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: You check, and you do the work yourself.So as this thing proliferates, itbecomes an iron cage where increasingly youdon't have a choice.You don't have people to deal with.You're on your own.And you're on your own at you're on your own in many of these kinds of settings.So we're custom to it.We like it.We like being on our own.

    • 08:36

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: We don't understand that people are losing jobs.And we don't understand that we're doing workthat we're being exploited for.Also to add to this is the technologyassociated with this, the kind of robotization that'soccurring here.Because at the same time, we have this proliferationof automated sort of technologies.

    • 08:58

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: I call them prosuming machines.And we have this process whereby people are losing jobsbecause we have these automated technologies now.So people are losing jobs to the automated technologies.But the automated technologies enable prosumersto do things on their own.And so what we have going on here in terms

    • 09:20

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: of job loss is in part it's technologyand in part it's prosumption, but they're highlyinterrelated with one another.[How has technology impacted prosumption?]This relates to the big new phenomena, big data,that what is being produced as we log on to

    • 09:40

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and Facebook is we're producing this massive amount of datafor these algorithms to work with, to churn out also.That's what basically what Jeff Bezos wants,is food for his algorithms that he can use to sell more stuff.

    • 10:03

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: You cannot simply be a consumer on the internet.You've got to produce something in order to consume.And so from that point of view, virtually everythingyou do on the internet is prosumption.[Is there a connection between shadow work, prosumption,and the recession in the United States?]

    • 10:23

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: I've argued that this image that it'sa jobless recovery is an erroneous idea, or at leasthas a potential of being an erroneous idea,because when you talk about a jobless recovery,it assumes that you're going to recover from itand that there are going to be jobs at the end of the road.But it's also possible that we'rein a new era of permanent joblessness

    • 10:45

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and I talk about that as an alternative scenario here.That back to the idea of prosumers and robots,and losing jobs as a result of that.I think it's at least arguable that we'reon the threshold of a new era where

    • 11:07

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: there are fewer and fewer jobs.In fact, there was just an articlein the paper about Finland, whereFinland is toying with the idea of basically a guaranteedincome.That people in Finland will get a guaranteed income.And the question increasingly is,as there are fewer and fewer jobs,is how are people going to get money?

    • 11:29

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And the idea that we're going to pay people,even though they don't work, is anathema to American society.But it's being tried out in Finland and in probablyas jobs, the traditional jobs, traditional notion of jobs,at least declines, that we're goingto see more and more attention to that kind of alternative.Also have to talk about this bifurcation

    • 11:51

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: of the American economy in terms of the kind of deathof the middle class.And how people are either increasinglybeing pushed down lower in the hierarchy and thenthere's this elite at the top, which is profiting enormously.And so more and more jobs-- and I

    • 12:12

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: think this has implications for studentsin introductory sociology and thingslike that-- is that more and more jobs arein that middle, which is falling behind in termsof income and things like that.And so I think one of the difficult problemsthat young people are going to face in the futureis can they survive in those middle income kinds of jobs?

    • 12:37

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: Which in the past was a huge routefor upward mobility for most Americans.[What does the job market look like for future generations?]People look forward to careers.You sort of started at the bottom,and you were going to move up some sort of hierarchy.That obviously has become a thing of the past.

    • 12:58

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: My first job was at the Ford Motor Company,and I sort of imagined that I wasgoing to move up the hierarchy to becomevice president of personnel at the Ford Motor Company,even though they were wildly anti-Semiticand I knew that that wasn't going to happen.But that kind of notion of moving up a hierarchyis just about gone.

    • 13:18

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And people now are accustomed to the ideathat their careers are going to be moving back and forthinto different kinds of organizations,different kinds of jobs.So, I think this sort of sense of securitythat my generation have, like sort of a career ladder,is virtually gone.And that's-- there's also talking about climbing

    • 13:40

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: a ladder, just scrambling from here to there,or to put together a career, and even if we can in fact call ita career.I mean there used to be a sociology of careers whichthought about them in terms of stepsand natural kinds of steps.It's hard to see these days.It's going to be-- I think it's more difficult.

    • 14:00

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: One could argue it's more stimulating, it'smore interesting, because you're constantlymoving among and between various kinds of things.But I think I would more think it's more problematic than itis stimulating.[What are the disadvantages of being part of a sharingeconomy?]

    • 14:21

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: The notion of a sharing economy was created in the notionthat people are really sharing things,that you have something that I want,and we're going to share it.I mean, even to the extent that youhave an apartment that I can use and we're going to share it.What's happened, of course, is that huge corporations

    • 14:42

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: have now-- they see profit to be made here,and they've taken over these domains.So the word "sharing" hardly applies anymore.Airbnb is a huge company.Uber is a huge-- Uber is worth $50 billion.It'll probably be worth a lot more in the future.So these huge corporations have donewhat capitalist organizations have always done,

    • 15:03

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and that is they've come to control the sharing economy,and they've come to corrupt the sharing economy.I mean the result of it is that youhave a lot of people who are doing work, whatwe traditionally talk of work-- driving Uber carsor renting their apartments-- but backto what I said before, they're using their own cars.

    • 15:25

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: They're using their own apartments.And Uber is getting a significant percentageof the profits from that.And so from my point of view, it'san exploitative kind of relationship.They're not in the main full-time jobs for people.

    • 15:45

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: It remains to be seen whether you can support yourselfas an Uber driver.But of course what they're doing is driving out of businessthe people who do that kind of work, taxi drivers,for example.I assume that hotels are sufferingbecause of Airbnb and those kinds of organizations.So I think that they're eliminating full-time jobs

    • 16:08

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and they're replacing them for lots of peoplewith some sort of part-time activitywhere they can earn some money, but I can't imagineanybody's ever going to get rich driving Uber carsor renting their apartments through Airbnb.I mean, they'll get some money, but Idoubt it's a route to upward mobility.So but people like it.

    • 16:32

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: People like to do it.They see it as an extra source of income.But it's dramatically changing the--and it's also, of course, a realm of prosumption, right?The people using their own cars to produce ridesfor other people, people using their own apartments to producerentals for other people.

    • 16:53

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And the same people who might driveUber cars or using Uber cars are the same peoplewho might rent Airbnb apartments or rentingtheir own apartments.So it's this fluidity between production and consumption herewhich brings us back to prosumption.But the big problem is it's not real sharing.

    • 17:14

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: It's organizations that have come to co-opt thisand to become profitable.So all the money's gone to Uber.Uber's got $50 billion.People who are driving those carsare not making anything like $50 billion.[What conclusions can you make about how society is changing?]Well I think of it actually in terms

    • 17:37

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: of the McDonaldization of society argument,and that is that they're obvious benefitsto us in McDonald's, but also in all these other systems.So we see it as more efficient to use McDonald's,to use, to use Airbnb-- calculable,predictable, and controllable.So the four dimensions of McDonaldization apply here,

    • 18:02

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and so we see these benefits to it-- calculability, lower cost.We think McDonald's, we think, doesn't cost us very much.Some of these other entities we believeare getting a lower cost.But what we don't ever see in thisis what Max Weber called the irrationality of rationality.

    • 18:24

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: There are always these irrational aspectsto these systems.I mean, I've talked a lot about doing work for nothing,enriching people, not realizing that you're doing it.It's one of the irrationalities of this system,from the point of view of why aren't we sharing?Why aren't we sharing in Facebook's enormous wealth?Or's enormous wealth?

    • 18:47

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: I mean, we're producing it, really.We're giving it to them and we're not getting anythingin return for it.So I think it's historically the casethat these systems have these advantages,these rationalities.But we seem not able to see is the irrationalities

    • 19:09

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: of these rational systems.When I write about McDonald's, people say, Idon't see what the problem is.I love McDonald's.And food is good.It's cheap.It's tasty.What are you?You crazy?There's not really a problem here.So people don't see the irrationalities of it.They don't see the irrationalitiesof drive-through windows, where you're becoming the garbage man

    • 19:34

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: for McDonald's, because now they don't-- they need fewer peopleto get rid of garbage, because you're taking your garbage withyou.And you either toss it in the backseatuntil it's filled up with garbage,or you've got to go someplace to dispose of the garbage.And so people don't see themselvesas-- they see the convenience of nothaving to get out of the car.They can eat while they're driving somewhere else.

    • 19:55

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And they don't understand that they're costing people jobs.And they don't understand that they're basicallyworking a few minutes a day, a week, or whatever,as unpaid garbage man for the--All of this makes me mad.I mean, I see humor in it.But most of what I write about is actually

    • 20:17

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: things that make me mad.And currently it's the prosumer who makes me mad.[How has prosumption affected the job market?]Well I think it's particularly clear of presuming machinesor automation or robotization.I think what we're seeing is that the initial phase was

    • 20:39

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: automated technology robots to the degreethat existed costing people jobs at the lowerend of the hierarchy.But as the robots and the technologyis getting more sophisticated, it is moving up the hierarchy.And so we're seeing higher and higher level jobsbeing eroded by this.

    • 21:02

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: Take-- I think it's a good example-- MOOCs, Massive OpenOnline Courses.And so we've got this technology nowwhere we can put these courses online,and the consequence of that-- taught by elite professors--the consequence of that is lots of teachers

    • 21:24

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: and graduate students and professorsare going to lose their jobs because it's cheaperto have students watch a lecture by a famous professor, whichyou bought once, or gotten free, or whatever.So we're going to see a lot of academicslose their jobs in the future as this online learningand, which is obviously very much related to technology

    • 21:46

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: as well.So, yeah, I think that we're going to see this creepingor rushing up the occupational hierarchy,and more and more people at higher and higher levelsare going to lose their jobs as a result.[What are some critiques to McDonaldization,and how would you reply to them?]

    • 22:07

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: Too bleak.I mean, one of the criticisms is that it picks upon-- the whole theory picks up on Max Weber'stheory of rationalization.And Weber used the bureaucracy as his majorin 1900, his major example of the process of rationalization.And he talked about this iron cage

    • 22:28

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: that was being created by these rational systems.What I simply did was to say that in my day,looking around for the paradigm of rationalization,the fast food restaurant was a better examplethan the bureaucracy.So in some sense, I'm just updating Weber here.

    • 22:49

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And so one of the criticisms is, I'm not reallydoing much different than Weber did,and I'm offering the same kind of bleak iron cagekind of perspective.But one of the-- and to some extent, that's true.But I think one of the contributionshere is to shift the focus from production and work

    • 23:09

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: in bureaucracies to consumption.And what a McDonaldization thesis points tois the fact that it's not just production that'sbeen McDonalized, but it's also consumptionthat's been McDonaldized.And it's one thing to McDonaldize what workers do.They're being paid and they can quit.

    • 23:30

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: But it's another thing to do that to paying consumers.We're also paying for service, which, by the way,the whole idea of service is just completely disappearing.We don't get service anymore.We get very McDonaldized kinds of services.But it's not service.

    • 23:50

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: So I think one of the big contributionsis to say that it's not just work that's been McDonaldized,but consumption that's been McDonaldized--the bleakness criticism.What a lot of people have criticized me foris they talk about global differences.I talk about the McDonaldization of society.I imply that it's a global process.

    • 24:10

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: After all, McDonald's is in 120 countries in the world.And beyond that, many other fast food restaurant chains thatjust model themselves after McDonald's.And beyond that, many other sectors of societyhave become McDonaldized.There's literature now on McDonaldizationof churches, or McUniversities, or McDonaldization

    • 24:32

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: of social work.There's a whole literature now on how all of these realmshave been become McDonaldized.But in terms of the McDonaldizationif restaurants, what some of the critics have saidwas McDonald's is not uniform throughout the world.It's really not the same throughout the world.And what they always point to are differencesin food around the world.And so they serve McSpaghetti in the Philippines,

    • 24:55

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: or they serve beer in Germany.And they say, see, it's not as homogeneous as you suggest.Now, what I always respond-- sometimesI don't say it out loud-- is it's not about the food,stupid.McDonaldization is not about the food, it's about the process.

    • 25:15

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: So it's about-- it doesn't matter what you produce,as long as you produce it efficiently, predictably, usingcontrol, and quantitative kinds of emphasis.So what's pointed to as differences are insignificant.It doesn't matter what you produce,it's how you produce it.

    • 25:36

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And I think in all those cases, McSpaghettiis being produced in a McDonaldized kind of way.So I think the system operates the same.The other way to say it is that if McDonald's operated wildlydifferently throughout the world,it wouldn't be McDonald's.It is the system that McDonald's employs.

    • 25:59

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: Now, by the way, all systems eventually fail.And there will come a day when the McDonald's system failsand there is some evidence McDonald's sales arein trouble, and that sort of thing.So there's some events that they're-- I mean,it's a huge corporation.It's not going anywhere.[Is McDonaldization evolving into something else?

    • 26:20

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: Would you have used another enterprise if you were to havecoined the term today?]The world is shifting from the, if youcan make a gross distinction between the materialworld and the digital world.Or the shifting from primarily a material worldto primarily a digital world.And so the question is, so Amazon now is about to be

    • 26:44

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: or has become the biggest corporation in the world.It's more important than the brick and mortar Walmart,for example.So the question is, does McDonaldizationapply to Amazon, for example?Is the emphasis on efficiency?Do the principles still apply?

    • 27:04

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And I think they do.Actually, somebody wrote an articlea couple of years ago critiquing me,and they entitled it the eBayization of society.And they argued that the real paradigm in the world today iseBay rather than McDonald's.I replied to their article by saying,

    • 27:25

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: yeah, eBay is important, and they do operateon different principles.For example, instead of limited products,they have infinite number of products.But what I argued was, but at their base,they're McDonaldized.It's a McDonaldized operation, whichis, it makes it able to operate in this slightly different way.

    • 27:47

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: But it's going to sound increasinglyfunny, I think, to talk about these online entitiesfrom the point of view of McDonaldization,because it was based on a phenomenonthat I started writing about in the 1980s, which predates itby a couple decades.But it's a very material kind of phenomenon.

    • 28:08

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And so I think the principles still apply.I mean, I don't think there's any questionthat Amazon is operating on those same basic principles.So we may need a new concept, maybe eBayization is it.I don't think so.But I don't think it matters what you call it.

    • 28:29

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: I think the point is that those basic principles--and by the way, those principles are not unique to McDonald's.Those are principles that Weber wroteabout in terms of the German bureaucracyat the end of the 19th century.Those are the principles that Henry Ford's automobileassembly line operated on.

    • 28:50

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: And so McDonald's was simply taking those principlesand adapting them and extending themto the realm of consumption.So it may be that we need a new paradigm.We've gone from bureaucracy to assembly lineto fast food restaurant to somethingelse-- maybe Amazonization.But at their base, it's essentially

    • 29:11

      GEORGE RITZER [continued]: the same essential principles.And so we may need a different label,but the principles continue to be operant.[MUSIC PLAYING]

George Ritzer Discusses Consumption

View Segments Segment :


Professor George Ritzer discusses consumption as more important than production as a driver of the economy. He describes prosumption as the production of something concurrent with the consumption of something else. Entities like Facebook profit from prosumption. Ritzer also explains his concept of McDonaldization and refutes a few criticisms.

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George Ritzer Discusses Consumption

Professor George Ritzer discusses consumption as more important than production as a driver of the economy. He describes prosumption as the production of something concurrent with the consumption of something else. Entities like Facebook profit from prosumption. Ritzer also explains his concept of McDonaldization and refutes a few criticisms.

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