The world is flat.” This is the claim of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. At the heart of this claim is the importance of the revolutions in transportation and communication. With sufficient resources, it is now possible to travel almost anywhere or communicate with almost anyone. It is another way of saying “It’s a small world after all.” The consequences of the declining significance of geographic place are particularly significant when it comes to the economy. It is now possible to disconnect the various components of the production process. While there has been growing awareness of the consequences of such globalization for industrial production jobs, many of which have relocated in countries that offer cheap labor and minimal safety, environmental, and legal restrictions. Increasingly, however, service sector jobs (including computer help call centers) have also gone global.

McDonald’s has taken global outsourcing to a new level. For the past 18 months they have been experimenting with a system in which the person who takes your order at the drive-through is not only not inside the restaurant, they may be out of the state (and presumably, eventually out of the country). The New York Times presents a report, The Long-Distance Journey of a Fast Food Order, on this phenomenon in its April 11, 2006 issue by Matt Richtell. Technological advances make such changes possible:

taking advantage of ever-cheaper communications technology, companies are creating centralized staffs of specially trained order-takers, even for situations where old-fashioned physical proximity has been the norm.

Such moves represent a continuation of job specialization in the hopes that it will provide greater efficiency and thus greater productivity. It also allows for greater oversight and control over the employees:

The call-center system allows employees to be monitored and tracked much more closely than would be possible if they were in restaurants. Mr. King’s computer screen gives him constant updates as to which workers are not meeting standards. “You’ve got to measure everything,” he said. “When fractions of seconds count, the environment needs to be controlled.”

This logic of specialization, fragmentation, separation, and control has been at work since at least the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution. The acceleration of transportation and communication have simply expanded the possibilities to new occupational categories and is likely to continue to do so.

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