At a computer near you: Customized culture

Kinchan1. Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Flickr.
April 19, 2010.

Public entertainment is an Industrial Age phenomenon.  Beloved ball parks, shopping malls, cinemas, symphony centers, restaurants, and theaters are less traditions than innovations.  They helped to foster the cultural diversity and social equality that we cherish today.  Surprising though it may be, their continued presence in the Information Age is not guaranteed.  Youthful consumers are already making the transition to online shopping and entertainment.  The advantages of online commerce for both customers and businesses are already evident to many of us.  For Americans, our striving for convenience is amply rewarded by online shopping.  Our demands for freedom of speech are fulfilled by social media.

Despite concerns about Main Street, small businesses, publishing, and the postal service, American values are still supported by online commerce and communication.  It is the development and institutionalization of social norms to govern our participation with which we are struggling.  As we learn from sometimes sad experience, we are writing policies and passing laws to make the Information Age pleasanter and safer for all of us.  These formal rules enable institutions to protect us from unethical businesses and predatory criminals.  It is public events that lack the security we now need because our famed ingenuity has yet to find solutions.

Stories of shopping downtown, walking the mall, riding public transportation, and cheering at sports events are now fraught with tragedy.  The achievements of national and international athletes are overshadowed by the heroic recoveries of victims and first responders.  Memories of finding treasures on sale at the mall are lost in experiences of bullying or assault in the parking garage.  The feeling and experience of security that should be each individual’s birth right is escaping our grasp.  Its restoration may only be practically possible at home. High definition television, international radio broadcasts, downloadable music, films, and books, and home theaters enable us to choose our recreational companions.

We can also feel confident in the safety of that venue; wireless alarm systems, automatic exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, electronic locks, and gated communities are affordable to homeowners.  Routine overtime hours for police officers, federal background investigations, and securing public places through environmental design prior to sports and entertainment events would overwhelm the budgets of communities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  Paradoxically, then, our virtual relationships will burgeon due to international social media.  At the same time, the local, public, in person mass gatherings that foster so much community loyalty will gradually disappear.  Protests and nostalgia over the closing of department stores such as Marshall Fields, bakers such as Hostess, and local cinemas will be replaced.  Virtual friendships in online communities, individual online reviews of restaurants and retailers by customers, and online shopping malls will enable both the conviviality and security we need.  What’s your screen name?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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