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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fast food class war

The LA Times ran a story today that complements my last article ('IBM, the attack on workers power and white supremacy'), so I thought I would post it here without a little further analysis. If you haven't read it already, looking it over will give some added context to this post.

The newest LA Times piece, entitled 'Hi, may our machine take your order?' features the increasing role of self-serve kiosks and terminals in fast food restaurants. Here's an excerpt from the article:
"We are moving to a self-service world," said Don Turner, chief executive of Pro-Tech Solutions Inc. of Suwanee, Ga., which displayed a self-serve ordering kiosk at the show. "Think of an airport. You have a choice of standing in line with 100 people to check in or going to a kiosk where there is no line."

Some industry executives and analysts believe that self-service ordering could one day be as common as French fries. For now, most restaurants find themselves arriving late to self-service, which was pioneered by automated teller machines at banks and electronic check-in counters at airports.

In the case of Pro-Tech customer Nick D'Angelo, a Subway franchisee in Mentor, Ohio, the impediment was one of numbers. Fourteen, to be exact — the number of questions a Subway food preparer poses to a customer while making a typical sandwich.

That's far too much conversation for the radio-operated ordering systems ubiquitous in fast-food drive-throughs, said D'Angelo, who figured he was watching thousands of dollars of lost business motor past his restaurant every week.

D'Angelo solved his drive-through problem this year by spending $15,000 on a Pro-Tech touch-screen kiosk. With the push of a button, it changes height, allowing drivers of Mini Coopers and monster sport utility vehicles alike to punch in their orders with ease.

"If you want to be in this game, you must have a drive-through," D'Angelo said, referring to a service offered at just 5% of Subway's outlets. His franchise these days sells $11,000 to $12,000 in sandwiches, chips and drinks a week, about double his take before he added the drive-through.

Devices such as touch-screen ordering kiosks — whether in the drive-through lane or inside the restaurant — promise many advances for quick-serve eateries, analysts say.

"It cuts down on labor, ensures accuracy and is often faster and easier for people to use," said Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst with Technomic Inc. in Chicago.
Aside from the substitution of capital for the worker, accomplished through the replacement of the potentially disobedient worker with the always eager to please machine, the kiosks also serve another valuable function for the capitalist.
The investment is paying off. Moulton said customers using the kiosks spent an average of 20% more per order than those who ordered at the front counter.

"The kiosk will always suggest an item like a drink or a dessert if it is not ordered," he said. "Front counter servers don't always do the same."

Paul Knight, who sells such machines for NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, notes another potential advantage for restaurants.

"Anonymity encourages people to make larger orders," he said. "They are not embarrassed to super-size something because they aren't doing it face to face."
Further, these machines in particular reproduce a sexist dynamic as well, feminizing the machines in an effort to comfort customers and coax them into larger purchases by providing them with a familiar female mother/wife servant interaction.
When a customer touches the screen of the NCR system — a newer version of what Moulton is using in his McDonald's stores — a soothing female voice says, "Welcome," and menu options pop up. The voice and the menu immediately highlight the "best value," or daily special.
Kevin Kane, spokesperson for the Subway stores summed the new technology this way, saying "We have to look at all of this. Technology is changing, and you don't want to be left behind."

Note the passive voice, which is meant to lead us to the all too common conclusion that technological progress is a process divorced from politics, in which the capitalists are just as much the victims of change as we are. This clever notion leaves no room for an analysis that recognizes technology as in fact quite the opposite - a vital and biased weapon in the capitalists' class war armory. The capitalist is willing to bring in new technologies because it increases profits and augments his control in the workplace.

In fact, the capitalists as a class are not the victims of technology, they, along with the government, are the lynch pins and facilitators of its development and implementation. Further, regardless of any individual store owner's particular role in the actual development of any single specific technology, thanks to the authority of the workplace it is the capitalist who has the power to impose it on her workers.

This disassociation between politics and technology, of course, is quite deliberate because as long as we are unable to see that the struggle against technology itself is a key element of the class struggle, we are left open to the manipulations of its masters, and unable to get a clear view of the battlefield of the modern class struggle. This is a recipe for our defeat.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humans are lazy. How about the online ordering of McDonald's. You can go to a website and pick what ever you want off the menu, set up a time when you want it and go get it, and even sometimes have it delivered right to your door. We are starting to rely on technology too much. Yes, I've used a self check-in kiosk at the airport, and yes it was easy, but I still can see that technology is going too far. It's only going to get worse. (examples 1984, Terminator, Final Fantasy X)

Sun Nov 12, 02:04:00 AM 2006  

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