Upstein: A Fully Controlled Society


When you go into Upstein dining hall, you’ll assuredly see a variety of things. Students talking, workers grumbling, and people all around eating. What I can assure you will find, are students taking their NYU ID’s out of their pockets, handing them to a worker who swipes the ID, and hands it back to the student who puts it back into his or her pocket.

Get Food. Wait in Line. Give ID. Swipe ID. Return ID. Eat Food.

Get. Wait. Give. Swipe. Return. Eat.

Rinse and repeat.

Surely you must be thinking, “Come on John, it’s essentially a fast food restaurant. Of course people will wait in line and pay. What’s the point?”

The point is that Fourth step. The “swiping.” When you swipe your NYUID, you are most likely telling NYU that you want to exchange one “meal swipe” for whatever assortment of food you have on your tray. You have a set number of meals per semester or week (Depending on your Meal Plan). Herein lies the problem.

Most NYU students do not know what that meal swipe is worth. They believe that since the meal plan is already paid for, then this metric does not matter. This is completely untrue. I will take a standard meal plan, of 113 meals per semester, along with $250 dining dollars (Virtual Money that can only be used in Dining Halls), for a total of $1585. Simple arithmetic will yield that each meal is worth $14.02.

Let’s take this number and look at what it can get you at Upstein. At Chick Fil-a, it will get you an eight piece chicken nugget, Fries, and a drink. The cash value of this meal is about $8. You can also get a single Jamba Juice beverage for a meal swipe. The cash value of a large Jamba Juice drink is $5.

Need I say more?

The simple fact of the matter is that students everyday are throwing money at Upstein through their meal plans, when they could be saving that money if they just paid all their meals in cash. The story isn’t much better in the other dining halls, but they are beyond the scope of my ecology.

Why then do they do it?

Heidegger, Deleuze, and Marx have the answer. Heidegger speaks of “Enframing,” which is essentially the idea of “revealing,” except in an ordered direction. In this case, it is an ordered direction focused by NYU. But what does it focus on? Well, Deleuze would posit that it focuses on control, on an embedded thought. The thought that a meal plan makes the life of a student easier. NYU requires all freshmen to have a meal plan in their first year, under the supposed reason that it wants to ensure that students always have access to food. I heavily question this motive, given the gross overpricing of the meal plans as I have shown above. Having a meal plan for one year, only one year, brings students into a mindset of routine, of automation. Get. Wait. Give. SWIPE. Return Eat. Humans, as Marx would say, are not prone to automation. Rather, it is the overriding power of the machine that compels us. And what is the machine in question hear? The technology that seemingly imparts automation to students?


It is only through that tiny card in all of our wallets that any of this is possible. In converting dollars into meal swipes, students forget the dollar value of those swipes. All they see decreasing before them is some arbitrary “number of swipes.” It prevents many of us from realizing what is happening, and how much money we are spending and wasting. It prevents us from seeing the control.

We just keep munching on our Chicken Nuggets, and slurping on our Jamba Juice drinks. Day after Day.

Get. Wait. Give. Swipe. Return. Eat.

-John Gonsalves

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript to the Societies of Control”. L’Autre journal, no. 1 (May 1990). Web. Sept 24.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology”. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. New York; Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977. Web. Sept. 24 2013.

Marx, Karl. “The Fragment of Machines”. The Grundrisse. (1857-8): 690-712. Web. Sep 24, 2013.. Sep. 23 2013.

~ by jeg417 on September 25, 2013.