Just in time shopping: The smart closet

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley notwithstanding, shopping can seem magical today.  If it weren’t for the human delivery person and the wait for his or her arrival, the whole process might seem downright ethereal.  Isn’t loading that virtual shopping cart with clicks and beeps comparable to waving a magic wand?  There’s no need to soil your fingers by handling cash or the soles of your shoes strolling the mall.  Now, if only the purchased item would instantly materialize on the desk beside the computer.  For those of us who would sooner eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans than window shop, even perusing web photos for new shoes may be exhausting.  Mobile applications simply compound the demands on your time and attention.  After all, a store window is a store window even if it is the screen on your mobile phone.  Is there hope for even the virtual shopping adverse?

Personal shoppers may be one source of sustenance.  Their enthusiasm for style, browsing, and purchasing cannot be quenched or fulfilled by their own needs for clothing.  They have ample to spare for any number of the fashion unconscious and shopping phobic.  Their services, though, usually require meetings, telephone conversations, and loyalty to a major department or apparel store.  Virtual consumers may have to wait for the innovators of the near future.

What will they provide?  Automated and digital shopping services customized to fit your personal tastes and lifestyle.  Like the smart refrigerators that maintain a digital inventory of their contents, they will develop smart closets.  Digital tags will document the demise of clothing.  Even more, the closet will automatically shop and purchase items to replace items that are shabby or outmoded.  Your credit card or store account will be debited.  Each store’s staff will package and ship your purchases to you.

Human stylists and programmers will design interfaces that permit you to complete a profile of your tastes and your physique online.  You will be able to add a digital mannequin with more detail than currently offered by some online apparel retailers.  Those personal shoppers will have the store all to themselves as they shop for their absent clients.  Video conferences will still be available for customers who want to have final approval of their purchases.  Such conferences will be routinely available for special purchases such as evening and wedding gowns and interview suits. For those of us for whom shopping is recreational, museums and theme parks will be developed.  For the price of admission, visitors will be able to window shop on Main Street and purchase souvenirs that memorialize shopping malls and department stores.  Will you want a patent shopping bag adorned with the colors and vanished logos of Marshall Field’s or Circuit City?  For the truly nostalgic, only a replica of a paper cup with a food court restaurant logo will suit.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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At the end of the rainbow: A wealth of “plastic”

Jake Wasdin. Flickr. April 6, 2008.

Jake Wasdin. Flickr. April 6, 2008.

Does the demise of the Canadian penny foreshadow the future of money itself?  More Canadians and Americans may find they have left home with plenty of “plastic”, but no money more often.  Even if you choose to avoid credit cards, you likely have a plastic bank debit card that permits you to make deposits and withdrawals at automatic tellers.  Of course, this same debit card can be conveniently used to pay for purchases.  Grocery and drug stores will even permit you to make cash withdrawals during your purchases.  If these conveniences haven’t been enough to convince most people of the benefits of “plastic”, store membership cards will provide discounts.  More commonly, too, riders of public transportation must pay for rides via pre-paid plastic cards.

While money may appeal to the senses with its shiny surfaces, ornate decorations, and substantive relative heft, it can’t offer the security of those lightweight, disposable plastic cards.  Lost and stolen money remains that way.  Colorful, fragile plastic cards are easily replaced.  Even better, the cash or credit behind them is promptly protected by a telephone call.  This security for hard earned cash may dissipate even lingering nostalgia for the jingle of coins and the crinkle of crisp paper.  If more security isn’t sufficient, the greater efficiencies of payment are sure to convince Americans.  Already notorious in their penchant for speed, Americans can avoid spending time counting out cash at the check-out counter if they pay with “plastic”.  Paying at the gas pump permits the buyer to avoid the time spent walking to and from the cashier’s office entirely.

Given these astounding advantages of “plastic”, the simple charm of money is overwhelmed.  Its presence will fade from view as we become accustomed to its virtual representatives.  Bank statements, debit cards, discount cards, and transit cards have already been joined by “app’s” that permit mobile payments.  Payment for airline tickets and highway tolls must be made virtually.  Shopping on the web requires one of money’s virtual representatives.  Cash registers have long been computers that calculate purchase totals and dispense change in coins.  Self-check-out lanes are becoming a routine option at major grocery and home supply stores.  Even public clothes washers and dryers often accept credit and debit cards.  Soon, there will be no products or services for which paper bills and coins are accepted.  The expense of processing them will prevent them from being instituted at all.  What will be the color of money?  Any color you choose.  Like bank debit cards, you will be able to put your picture on it, too.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Hope for privacy in the 21st century

Alan Cleaver.  Flickr. November 14, 2009.

Alan Cleaver. Flickr. November 14, 2009.

It isn’t just that the opportunities for attention and self-promotion have expanded.  If you’re reading this blog, you are probably aware of other blog hosts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.  You also know of many more social media applications.  Nearly all are free; professional versions for the seriously attention deprived are usually low-cost.  Small marketing firms and self-employed marketers to tell us how to employ social media in service to our public image have also proliferated.  Of course, the nefarious among us have been quick to exploit social media for cyberbullying, pedophilia, and identity theft.  Nonprofit organizations and government agencies have responded with advice and strategies for social media users to protect themselves.  These numerous brochures, slideshows, videos, and webinars are – needless to say – distributed by social media.

It isn’t just that social media are so widely and freely available; it is that so many people are actively choosing to use them to communicate.  The latest toothpaste commercial, coupons for the newest toothpaste flavor, and a customer preferences survey can all be easily offered worldwide online.  Pride in junior’s first word, too, can be easily shared on Facebook with grandparents living across the world.  It can also be shared with whoever on both continents uses Facebook.  Unfortunately, free access to social media has convinced some marginal sorts that any publicly posted photos, videos, and text can be copied and re-purposed as they wish.  Toothpaste manufacturers may view this appropriation as free publicity.  Junior may regret becoming a celebrity at the age of one year.

For these reasons, it is more important, yet more difficult to protect your own privacy.  Choosing to avoid the web entirely is no longer an option for people in the paid workforce.  Even if you decide not to become a member of the LinkedIn professional network, your employer may post your profile and photo on the company web site.  Use of email to communicate within and without the company is routine and required.  Etiquette for its use has improved, that is, most formal organizations have policies stipulating its format, content, and purpose.  Still, very little policy and, certainly, not any oversight prevent people from forwarding any email message they receive.  The threaded nature of email conversations is often forgotten as people are copied and recopied on new messages.  Being circumspect about the content of your email messages or demanding a phone conversation can prevent the accomplishment of tasks or the development of important business relationships.

In the future, then, both definitions of privacy and social norms about its protection will most likely change.  Just as children learn to use the telephone through parental instruction during conversations with grandparents, they will learn to post on the family social network page.  Neighbors will welcome new residents to the block or housing development by posting to their social network page.  Play dates, birthday parties, and weddings will all be scheduled and invitations issued online.  Although interest in and incidents of sexting will decline, bullying will move nearly in its entirety from the athletic field and sidewalk to the web.  No longer will people be enamored of establishing their own fame or infamy on the web, though.  Few individuals will have Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest accounts.  Even the creation and maintenance of web sites by individuals will decline.  The web will become just another, albeit virtual, communication and home management appliance like an automatic washing machine or a television.

This winnowing of participation in social media will facilitate the management of your reputation online.  Slanderers, bullies, and other interlopers will be fewer and more readily identified.  Due to the instruction of children in the etiquette of social media by their parents, bullying behavior will become less severe.  Often, it will be the equivalent of silly, anonymous jokes.  Even these infractions will be promptly identified and routinely punished by service providers.  Due to this permitted and expected prior review, not background investigation of new acquaintances, life will be less surprising, but it will be much more serene.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Virtual life: The end of street crime?

Alan Cleaver. Flickr. May 16, 2009

Alan Cleaver. Flickr. May 16, 2009

Now that more and more shopping, education, and working occur on the web, what is the future of theft, robbery, and burglary?  If shoppers, students, teachers, professors, mothers, fathers, and employees never have to leave the security of their homes, will pickpockets, muggers, and bank robbers starve?  Will police officers stop patrolling the streets and spend all of their time on desk duty?  Some criminals have risen to the challenge by developing innovative methods to exploit information technology.  Probably, most of us are aware of phishing and identity theft.  Still, firewalls and passwords to protect the virtual shopping mall, grocery store, high school, university campus, and corporate office are becoming more sophisticated.  Will thieves find it more profitable to become soldiers of fortune, professional athletes, stock brokers, or real estate developers?

Perhaps, they will develop the security technologies of the future.  Fingerprint readers in lieu of computer passwords are already economically available to home computer users.  Audible and visual alarms embedded in virus protection software may increase the attentiveness of users to warnings about potentially harmful web sites.  The use of encrypted email and video conferencing may become routine.  To prevent burglary, wireless alarm systems are already easily and inexpensively installed in residences.  Dogs may become even more popular as living, breathing, loyal, and unpaid body guards.

Their company as well as the absence of traffic may prompt long walks.  Even in cities, walkers might enjoy views of the stars as telecommuters, home schoolers, and home shoppers won’t need street lights.  Even skyscrapers might rise from lush gardens and orchards; parks would then become obsolete.  For children, their entire community would constitute their backyard.  For those missing their long daily commutes, Google Earth or video game companies would offer virtual highway travel with traffic congestion and speed traps.  Most of us, though, would probably be glad to have an extra hour to sleep every morning.

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Food deserts: Lost in a mirage of abundance

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Food insecurity is popularly known as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.  Even in a country of abundance like the United States, in 2011, 14.9% of household members weren’t sure they would eat regularly.  Providing assistance in the form of soup kitchens, food pantries, and vouchers or debit cards for the purchase of food isn’t sufficient.  As described and explained by Mari Gallagher, numbers of American communities offer little or no access to healthy foods.  Gallagher developed the term “food deserts” to define these circumstances and geographical areas.  While a great variety of fast and snack foods may be available locally, fresh vegetables and meats are not within ready commuting distance.

For children living in a food desert, chips, candy bars, ice cream, and soda pop constitute their choices for an after school snack.  Their shopping is limited to a corner store or gas station.  The absence of full-service restaurants or diners prevents teens from enjoying omelets, salads, or glasses of milk with their friends.  Busy parents can’t traverse the self-service check-out lane or visit the 15 items or less cashier with salad ingredients and a package of chicken legs after work.    Their choices for a quick dinner are confined to the drive through lane at a community fast food restaurant.  Yes, they may be able to choose among fried fish, hamburgers and fries, and fried chicken.  Still, all of these meals are fried and reconstituted from frozen, not fresh foods.

The travel necessary to shop at a grocery store may prevent food desert residents without cars from shopping at one.  Residents with cars may have to shop less frequently than they need because of the time required to drive to a grocery store.  Their usual diet, then, may lack healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and yogurt, whole grains, and cuts of fresh meat that can be stewed and roasted.  This grocery store deficiency can cause lifelong health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  An abundance of fried, salty, and sweet foods can be as detrimental to quality of life and longevity as food insecurity.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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T-shirts: Style meets substance

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Even for those of us who grew up without the web, it may strain the imagination to remember life without it.  Prompts might include black vinyl bound photo albums full of shiny black and white photographs in a hall closet.  There may be a rotary telephone in the attic, although the landline cord has disappeared.  Stacks of vinyl records, though, are likely remembered, dusted, and cherished.  Popular music tends to accompany important events and fondly remembered relationships.  As its performers fade into an obscurity that eludes Beethoven and Mozart, reminiscing necessitates those LPs.

The t-shirt has retained a similar place in our affections.  Before Twitter, it was the only place that one could proclaim one’s identity, beliefs, values, politics, school loyalty, or favorite restaurant.  In much less than 140 characters, but with accompanying illustrations, you could become a walking billboard.  Of course, you had to supply your own animation.  That became relatively easy to accomplish as the wearing of underwear in public became socially acceptable.  In an earlier era, the formerly white and cotton men’s undergarment was only glimpsed at the necklines of men wearing their button-downs with the collar open.

Today, of course, men, women, and children wear t-shirts solo and in a great variety of hues.  Businesses that will assemble a t-shirt with your favored colors and slogans have been profitable for decades.  Such t-shirts are so ubiquitous and popular that people give them routinely and receive them gratefully.  For some, they constitute a treasured and unworn archive of achievement.  The road runner who has finished multiple marathons in several states memorializes his or her stamina, if not speed with a collection of race t-shirts.  The vacationer who has visited every American state brings home an illustrated, if not shiny t-shirt trophy from each one.

Will the popularity of Twitter and the burgeoning mobility and decreasing cost of web access bring about the demise of the t-shirt?  Twitter features that permit the attachment of photographs and video offer more sophisticated visual appeal.  There’s no need to squint at your neighbor’s disappearing back or cast sidelong glances at your co-worker’s torso, either.  Without world travel, your illustrated message can reach far beyond your own community, too.  Still, there’s no wrapping oneself in a soft, if colorful Twitter message.  Like blue jeans, t-shirts will become stylish, that is, created by fashion designers and illustrated by professional artists.  Their lines, fabrics, and colors will reflect where they are worn and the taste, not the politics of their wearers.  Which designer t-shirt will you wear to your next dinner party?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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All dressed down with everywhere to go

Meike Schonhutte. Flickr. May 13, 2008.

Meike Schonhutte. Flickr. May 13, 2008.

The advent of pantyhose rendered even formal dressing for women swift and painless.  In not too distant times memorable to living grandmothers, wearing hose necessitated sturdy undergarments and complex fasteners.  Tutorials and mentoring in their selection and wear were required to avoid unsightly bulges, afford necessary bathroom breaks, and ensure adequate oxygen intake.  Today, of course, even corporate dress codes permit no hose.  No woman need endure even the minor confinement of pantyhose.  Concern over visible tattoos, body piercings, and cleavage has long eclipsed worries over hose.

Tattooed and pierced mothers and fathers must also consider whether to teach junior the complexities of tying shoes.  Will he be wearing wingtips to the office?  Will she need steel toed boots on the construction site?  The advent of Velcro has simplified and speeded the shodding of youngsters.  There’s no more whining or kicking during the lacing of baby shoes or delays while kindergarteners puzzle the intricacies of shoe laces.  Even buckles are receding into history as they are replaced by elastic in shoe straps and waistbands.  Zippers, of course, are much more efficient than buttons.  Popping on that mundane gray hoodie rather than buttoning your cable knit cardigan guarantees a seat on the bus.  Still, climbing into baggy kneed sweatpants takes the zip out of fastening designer jeans.   Apparently, any interest in the decorative functions of laces, buttons, and zippers has disappeared in favor of the clean, if monotonous lines of now ubiquitous casual clothing.

Should these fasteners be preserved as a rite of passage?  Are keyboarding, texting, and playing video games the only socially correct ways to learn and demonstrate fine motor skills and dexterity?  Probably, the value of fastening skills as indications of cultured manners and a formal wardrobe will disappear with cursive writing, paper greeting cards, and telephone calls.  Any grieving will be reserved for owners of vintage clothing stores, button collectors, and zipper manufacturers.  Their memory will fade as their stories are relegated to the pages of esoteric fashion history journal articles.  Perhaps, instead, we will choose to embellish our conversations and more closely connect with friends and family.  Our newfangled fasteners for the enhancement of our social fabric are stylish smart phones with numerous colorful icons representing the proliferation of communication applications.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Ethnic authenticity: No hyphens allowed

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Concern with authenticity isn’t necessary to serve or eat ethnic foods in America.  The savvy restaurateur caters to local tastes.  Without his or her innovations, there would be no Tex-Mex chili, chicken chow mein, vegetarian sushi, or Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Assimilation would demand American breakfasts of cold cereal, lunches of hot dogs and apple pie, and dinners of steaks and baked potatoes.  Accommodation welcomes new citizens with friendly interest in their cultures if not their languages.  Just as friendship necessitates finding commonalities and sharing experiences, Americans have adapted ethnic recipes to suit their own tastes, ingredients, and customs.

Our best intentions have brought us nachos comprised of tortilla chips, Velveeta cheese sauce, hamburger, and pickled peppers for lunch.  Pasta, of course, is readily assembled from packaged noodles, canned tomato sauce, and hamburger.  Chocolate chips and chocolate cream cheese transform bagels.  This disguise renders breakfast as richly sweet as dessert.  Plenty of salt and fat as well as sugar suits American tastes.  An abundance of meat and cheese is important to Americans, too.  Fresh herbs and spices and unprocessed oils aren’t missed; they would be overwhelmed by all the fatty meat and melted cheese.  Even more, rather than reserve all this rich abundance for holiday celebrations, Americans enjoy it daily.

We’re quick to give credit as well.  While Italians may wish compliments neither for Snooki nor for “Italian” beef sandwiches, they are legendary in the United States.  Swedish pancakes served at American family restaurants are probably about as well known to Swedes as Dolph Lundgren.  Chinese fried rice and Bruce Lee offer similar dubious compliments to the long history of Chinese civilization.  American pride in these adulterations of ethnic foods and culture does acknowledge their hyphenated or hybrid nature.  After all, credit is due to Americans for their development, if not their taste buds.

If only the same devotion afforded to recipes for apple pie and potato salad accompanied forays into tacos and Thai noodle dishes.  Treasured recipes for flaky crusts include prescriptions for specialty ingredients and their temperatures.  Selected varieties of apples are recommended for fillings of the best texture and flavor.  Traditional family recipes for potato salad call for particular types of mustard and varieties of potatoes and onions.  The ingredients of their dressings, accompanying vegetables, and temperature at serving are diverse and detailed.  Respect for other cultures would be improved by respect for their cuisines.  In our global society, there’s ready access to unfamiliar ingredients and authentic recipes via the web if not your local grocery store.  Unlike learning another language, eating authentic ethnic foods offers fun with much less exertion.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Chowing down: Fast as a way of life

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Fortification for the demands of the day is economically, geographically, and nearly instantaneously available to Americans.  There are toastable frozen waffles, packaged breakfast bars, or yogurt cups from one’s own kitchen refrigerator.  Drive-through windows at local restaurants offer complete and handheld breakfasts.  Even if purchased, not cooked oneself, the substance of bacon, eggs, and toast used to require a fork, knife, and plate.  The preparation of even popular, comfort foods has become the province of people who are formally educated and paid.  The rhythms of a lovingly handmade, hot breakfast enjoyed in a warm kitchen in the convivial company of loved ones are gone.  Americans are so enamored with mass production that the value of amateur proficiency in the kitchen has declined precipitously.  Slowly preparing meals from fresh ingredients and family recipes has little meaning.

Still, how is it that fast preparation requires fast consumption of meals?  Eating while driving, working, and watching television is an expected part of multi-tasking for Americans.   Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, and burritos can be dispatched by the mouthful, too.  They constitute a handful; a double cheeseburger or a beef burrito dwarf finger sandwiches in size and weight.  Energetic chewing may be required, but table manners needn’t stand in its way.  Neither a dining table nor dining companions are found in a car, office, or den.  Large chunks of food are readily swallowed with the help of large volumes of beverages.  Straws encourage gulps rather than sips.  It isn’t enough for food to be fast, so must the diner.  The goal is to assuage hunger and finish a meal; minimizing the time spent eating is as important as minimizing the time spent cooking and cleaning up after the meal.

That doughnut or fried chicken leg need not be memorable as long as it is edible.  This minimal standard for taste enables the purchase of doughnuts or chicken legs at any restaurant.  For Americans, a valuable meal has become more food or drink per dollar.  Fast food restaurants compete by lowering prices or increasing portions rather than by improving taste or nutrition.  Their customers seek savings in time, effort, and money rather than enjoyment of their meals and the companionship of family and friends.  Changing these values would dramatically change not only the American diet and physique, but also the American identity and way of life.  Race you to the grocery store?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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At a museum near you: Vintage foods

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

The era of sauerkraut and sausages, rice and beans, pasta and tomato sauce, and turnips and potatoes is behind us.  For those of us on a budget, the dollar menu at McDonald’s is not only as economical, but also efficient and labor-saving.  The time from stomach growling to dinner time is approaching equivalence to the time required to say, “Millions served”.  When was the last time you ate pickled beets, cream of rice cereal, or beef tongue?  Molasses and prunes are now worthy of a museum exhibit.  They used to constitute important ingredients for cookies and cakes.  Ginger cookies, spice cake, and prune Danish pastries rendered the consumption of iron and fiber not only painless but also sweet.

Now that Hostess has stopped creating rich variations in the color and texture of sugary snacks, will people revert to canned fruit cocktail, toaster pastries, peaches in heavy syrup, and frozen cookie dough?  Their sweetness and convenience offered a surfeit of taste and expedient satiation.  Their popularity is now rivaled by hamburger, chicken parts, and cheddar cheese.  Given the great variety of foods available due to mass transportation and global trade, why are Americans satisfied with such a repetitive diet?  Fast food and family restaurants serving burgers, cheese burgers, macaroni and cheese, pizza, beef and cheese tacos, barbecued chicken, and chicken wings densely populate many communities.

What happened to pancake houses, delicatessens, and fish shacks?  Blueberry waffles, pastrami sandwiches, and fried clams offer the aromas and flavors of regional and ethnic America.  The preservation of tradition and variety requires experimentation.  Kippers for breakfast would wake up American taste buds.  Boredom would be banished by sushi or chorizo for lunch.  A supper of goulash, kimchi fried rice, or a prosciutto frittata would require dinner time conversation.  Heirloom status should be awarded to recipes, not just tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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