Last week I shared some thoughts on the challenges of coping in a changing world. I suppose the subject isn’t a very exciting one. Most folk, I suspect, are too preoccupied with the routines of daily living to think much about the profound ways in which our society — the way we live, work, and play — is changing.
For whatever reason, the subject has captured my imagination for quite some time. Coming from a social service background, it irks me to no end to hear people in the field talking about how what they are doing represents a new paradigm. The reason it irks me so is because we have no more control over paradigm shifts than we do the weather. But I guess that’s my problem.
Anyway, “The McDonaldization of Society” is a book written over 10 years ago by University of Maryland social science professor George Ritzer. In it, he uses McDonald’s as an extended metaphor for the ways in which the future is being shaped. Although I read his book some time ago, I still find its ideas relevant and useful to understanding where we are now and where we may be headed.
Although time and space here do not permit me to go into much detail about some of Ritzer’s views, I believe it is worth sharing some of my own summary perspectives on his and futurists like Alvin Toffler (The Third Wave, Power Shift) work. The central idea is that we are rapidly moving from an industrial, manufacturing society into an information (or knowledge-based) one.
Like a tsunami, the coming change is coming from a great distance, it’s eventual impact barely perceptible. When it does hit, however, everything — everything — is torn, twisted, turned upside down, uprooted, drowned, or otherwise forever changed. That’s a paradigm shift. All else is child’s play.