Posts Tagged With: sociology

Most wanted: The name without a face

State Records NSW. Flickr. February 4, 2011.

State Records NSW. Flickr. February 4, 2011.

The proliferation of web-enabled crimes and criminals has prompted employee training by companies managing proprietary, privileged, and confidential information.  Seemingly slang terms like phishing, spoofing, and smishing have become professional jargon.  Communities are just beginning to resolve questions of legality and jurisdiction.  If those issues weren’t a sufficient challenge, the anonymity permitted by these crimes prevents even victims from identifying the perpetrators.

Unlike violent crimes, possession and use of a firearm or knife isn’t needed for web-enabled crimes.  Superior physical strength or an intimidating demeanor isn’t required, either.  Unlike conventional low-skilled white collar crimes like fraudulent check cashing or retail theft, there’s no need to show one’s face in public.  Even more, the skills needed for web-enabled crimes can be self-taught.  There’s no need for a college degree in accounting or finance to commit postmodern white collar crimes.  Identity theft can be lucrative and accomplished just by social engineering scams.

What’s the future of crime?  Will shoplifting, purse-snatchings, and, even, retaliatory drive-by shootings disappear?  After all, the risk of incarceration or death is greatly reduced by the camouflage of a computer screen.  Online shopping with someone else’s credit card can be accomplished far away from the surveillance of department store security guards.  Obtaining those credit card numbers requires only deceptive email messages, not loitering on darkened streets in isolated areas.  Instead of purchasing and using an unregistered handgun, gang members need only begin an online campaign against a chosen victim.  Names and incriminating video evidence can be posted anonymously.  What could be a better revenge against an enemy than his or her lengthy prison sentence?

Our perceptions of the safety of the web would be rudely and permanently dismissed by increasing news reports of virtual crimes.  For law-abiding people, though, the retreat of criminals from the streets would dramatically change the routines of daily life.  Nightlife could include people of all ages and inclinations.  Firefly chasing, outdoor night basketball games, and all night porch chatting might add some respectability to club hopping and partying.  Early risers could safely meditate in parks.  Families could leave gates and doors unlocked.  Community would again become local blocks rather than international chat rooms or social media.  Criminals, not neighbors would become the faceless strangers to be mistrusted. Serenity would reign.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Future travel: Virtuosity not virtuality

Antony. Flicktone. Flickr. February 17, 2007.

Antony. Flicktone. Flickr. February 17, 2007.

The nature of travel has changed in many ways since the days of our grandparents.  It is both longer and faster.  Global commutes that encourage dual citizenships are becoming more frequent.  International vacations aren’t just the province of the wealthy.  The speed of air travel, its increased scheduling, and its declining expense permit shorter trips.  Working travelers can afford limited tours of Europe or select stops in Asia, Africa, or South America.  Global travel has fostered international commerce, a global economy, and a culturally diverse America.

Closer to home, cross-country travel can be accomplished in hours or days via plane, train, or bus.  Highways offer us express lanes and wireless toll way passes to speed even high-speed auto travel.  Paradoxically, concerns with global warming have prompted bicycle lanes and bicycle commuters.  Telecommuting has added virtual travel to our repertoire.  Still, the emerging practicality of electric cars will likely minimize air pollution by local drivers.  Computer-aided traffic management has the potential to greatly reduce traffic congestion.

Our efforts to buy locally grown foods and American-made goods might soon be environmentally unnecessary.  Our pride in our freedom of movement will likely easily overwhelm our economic insecurity due to the decreased cost of fuel.  After electric charging stations become widespread, the cost of fueling a car will be neither expensive nor capricious.   Electric buses would stem and reverse the increasing cost of tickets for local and national travel.  Frequent visits to relatives and friends would be practical.  Visits to our South American and Canadian neighbors would be possible.

Anxieties about such travel would be diminished through the review of the virtual vistas on the web.  More travel would prompt demand for more efficient border crossings.  Blooming cultural understanding due to frequent cross border interactions would prompt the easing of emigration laws.  Cultural diversity would flourish; the domination of American popular culture would be replaced by an appreciation for indigenous cultures.  Traditional oral arts and native languages would survive.  Even local travel would become more than just moving from A to B.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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The return to home sweet home

Moyan Brenn. Tromso, Troms Fylke, Norway. Flickr. February 19, 2012.

Moyan Brenn. Tromso, Troms Fylke, Norway. Flickr. February 19, 2012.

Home, of course, is more than a dwelling.  It isn’t an award-winning architectural design or LEED certification.  Even gingerbread trim, fresh paint, window boxes, or lace curtains don’t define home.  Home is comfort, privacy, safety, and rest.  Home is cozy warmth, soft cushions, and sunny windows.  It is freedom from prying eyes, a shrine to personal treasures, and a cherished hangout.  Home permits refreshing naps, fearless, restorative sleep, and uninterrupted video games.

Home is a haven from the cares and dangers of the world.  First, urbanization and, then, globalization challenged the abilities of home to provide these qualities to its families.  The population density, crime, noise, and pollution of the industrial age changed the nature of home for many Americans.  Multiple unit buildings, narrow hallways, and small, windowless rooms begrudge comfort, privacy, and rest.  Miniature yards, alleys, and four-lane roads encourage the conflict that precedes crime.

A richly appointed house is also less likely to become a home.  Designer or antique furniture and art collections prevent informality and relaxation.  Home theaters, kitchen and bathroom televisions, and living room and bedroom web access permit the world to invade family life.  The colonization of information age communication technologies has made the residence an extension of the workplace.  Globalization has erased the end of the work day.

Household friendly architecture requires light, space, nooks, and curves.  There must be a generosity of windows.  Inhabitants require the passage of sun and shadow to mark their physiological rhythms.  Rays of sunshine through sparkling glass enable even urbanites to enjoy indoor greenery.  Hallways must be large enough for décor and conversation.  Regular consideration of children’s plaster handprints, parents’ wedding pictures, and grandparents’ portraits must accompany trips to the bathroom and races to answer the front doorbell.  Niches for reading and contemplation nourish the soul and lower blood pressure.  Smooth, round stairway banisters, flexible screen doors, and soft, beveled edges on kitchen counters and dining bars encourage fun and frolic and prevent injury.

As home schooling and work telecommuting become more common, dwellings must become less, not more utilitarian.  If we must stay in the same place all day and every day, it must be as inhabitants of a human ecosystem, not cramped, exploitive invaders. Rooftop and courtyard gardens, built-in composting bins, and floors and rooms heated geothermally are only the beginning.  More building materials will be sustainably derived from natural sources.  House paint and aluminum siding will disappear.  The sounds, touch, and smells of wind, water, and sun will refresh lobbies, patios, and living rooms through fountains, ponds, skylights, and aerodynamic hallways.  Students and office workers alike will enjoy them because secure, built-in, home wireless networks will render offices and classrooms obsolete.  Residential prestige will be conferred upon the most sustainable neighborhoods.  The conspicuous consumption of McMansions and multiple car garages will be considered crass and distasteful.  Home will not only nourish and protect the heart, but also the mind and the family. 

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Inside out: Emerging interior design

F. D. Richards. Flickr. October 13, 2012.

F. D. Richards. Flickr. October 13, 2012.

Global warming will encourage us to spend more time outdoors.  Our needs for shelter from the sun and heat and conservation of electricity will prompt the design of hybrid dwellings.  Sunrooms, porches, patios, and skylights will expand the definition of indoors.  The sunroom won’t just be a playroom, reading room, or afternoon snooze nook.  The kitchen table will migrate to a sunny corner of it.  Breakfast, after school snacks, and neighborly chats will grace it daily.  Patio designs will offer partial shade through awnings and roofs as well as lawn furniture and carefully placed trees.  Mobile barbeque grills will become obsolete.  Barbeque pits will become sophisticated built in grills powered by the sun.  Solar ovens will bake bread, cookies, and root vegetables.

Eventually, indoor kitchens will disappear.  Finished garages will sport refrigerators accessible to children seeking drinking water and parents barbequing dinner.  They will be easily stocked with groceries by opening the adjacent van door.  The mudroom’s washer and dryer will be accompanied by a dishwasher.  A china cabinet will decorate its upper reaches.  The nearby bathroom will offer a sink for mandatory hand washing before dinner.  Instead of retiring to the dank if cool environs of the basement to cook and relax, families will enjoy the cooler evening air outdoors on their patios as they dine.

More families will grow their own vegetables and flowers, too.  Greenhouse designs will become human as well as plant friendly.  Instead of utilitarian rows of seedlings and delicate flowers, they will be atria harboring pools of koi, raised bed flower gardens, and family picnic areas.  In ground pools will be an expected feature of single family homes like garages and basements are today.  Swimming classes like driving instruction will be a curricular standard at public schools throughout the United States.  Expert, certified swimmers will live in Kansas and Ohio as well as in Florida and California.

Inside homes, skylights will permit indoor landscaping.  Gardens and trees will help manage the temperature, humidity, air quality, and sunshine.  Less electricity for heating, cooling, and lighting will be needed.  Floors of ceramic tile and stone will eclipse wood and carpet in their durability, ease of care, and cool comfort.  Furniture will be more functional and less decorative.  Its comfort, mobility, durability, and cleanliness will be assured by its design and composition.  Lightweight, folding frames of aluminum and washable cushions will permit immediate furniture re-arrangement to accommodate changing purposes, numbers of people, and events.

Despite the global rhythms of life in the Information Age, humans will be able to live closer to the land.  They will be able to observe the seasons and cope with changing climates rather than avoid or conquer them.  Their respect and care for their neighbors, communities, wildlife, and the earth will grow.  It will inform their daily life and their plans for the future.  This stewardship will foster the wholeness for which people long.   A nap on the couch can become Shangri-La.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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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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Retiring the modern hearth: Good bye to the stove

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Shiny, warm, and fragrant from baking chocolate chip cookies, the stove replaced the hearth as the center of the kitchen if not the home.  It is lovingly scrubbed by fryers of chicken and simmerers of tomato sauce.  Novice bakers of muffins for a Girl Scout meeting, veteran omelet cooks, and amateur gourmet chefs preparing ratatouille all pay their respects with their attentive stances before the stove.  Of course, these comforting household routines would not be possible if the presence of the stove wasn’t an expected part of every household.  Despite central heating and fast food restaurants, whether we inhabit an apartment or a mansion, there’s a stove in the kitchen.

Given the length and importance of the relationship of the stove with abodes and their inhabitants, what is the future of the stove?  Fast food meals have enabled walks right by the kitchen door.  Digital relationships have moved eating from the kitchen to the desktop.  Our working friendship with the stove has been usurped by the computer.  Cooking and baking have been replaced by tapping and clicking.  While the stove’s stolid appearance has a certain technological charm, its chunky mechanical dials and elements can’t complete even visually with the sleek, minimalist style of a laptop computer.  Of course, working with a computer imbues us with an air of intelligent accomplishment, too.  The audios, videos, and multiple screens are all commanded by the agile glide of our fingers over the keyboard.  Melodious sounds and erudite talk issue into the surrounding air.  Working with stove affords us a more visceral appeal.  Our production of nourishment, warmth, and taste suggests that not only our minds, but also our hearts are engaged.

Despite our longings, though, the demands of the information age will draw us away from the loyal companionship of the stove.  Our collection of cookbooks will make way for the overflow of paper goods from the wholesale shopping store.  Repeated foraging for meals at the drive through window will become habitual.  Our memories of cooking and the flavors of home cooked meals will disappear with our bottled herbs and spices.  Like the exercise bike that serves as a hanger for clothing, the stove will first lose its luster due to a slight covering of dust.  Our initial inattentions will be replaced with takeout menus, piles of paper napkins, and packets of sugar and ketchup.  Eventually, it will be donated to a family who appreciates its bulky sensibilities, despite its lack of cachet.  Future generations will want kitchens equipped only with microwave and toaster ovens.  Their elegant portability and just-in-time performance will speed the stove into obsolescence.  Good bye, old friend.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Cultured diversions: Knowledge is comfort

Chris Rubber Dragon. Flickr. August 23, 2011

Chris Rubber Dragon. Flickr. August 23, 2011

Despite the abuse of the web by criminals and bullies, it offers breathtaking opportunities for the development of cultural diversity.  Even for residents of culturally diverse America, though, our first introductions to cultures different from our own may be via introductions to new tastes rather than new people.  Enjoying gyros, jerk chicken, sushi, or kielbasa with your family and friends requires little exposure to the unknown and much less risk of discomfort.  If you don’t like the gyros, your friends will understand.  You can discuss the flavors and textures that aren’t palatable to you.  Your order of a more familiar dish such as a hamburger or salad won’t embarrass your family.

Even if you devour your sushi and convey the all-American compliment of ordering a second helping, such biological and social nourishment isn’t sufficient to nurture the understanding required for pluralism.  Relationships with people, of course, require greater time and effort.  The nuances of verbal and nonverbal communication necessitate an investment in knowledge of other cultures.  Even if you choose to converse with people who speak English rather than learning another language, there are varying preferences for popular culture, greetings, gestures, and personal space.  Where will you sit?  Should you shake hands?  What will you talk about?  The possibilities for embarrassment have been multiplied.  The usual anxieties about meeting new people have been squared.

Fortunately, the web offers numerous and authentic opportunities to learn about varying cultures with no risk to your savior faire or your ego.  If you don’t like to read, photographs, videos, and audios abound.  Visits to sites for particular localities usually offer piquant overviews of community customs, events, and pastimes.  Language is no barrier due to online translation software.  Whether you’re becoming better acquainted with your teenaged grandchildren, planning a visit to an unfamiliar region of America, or welcoming your new neighbors, a little clicking will enable you to talk as well as exchange recipes.  The comforts of conversation will soon supersede those of comfort foods, too.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Dinner: A brief history

Like the Grand Canyon. Flickr. April 6, 2011.

Soy burgers and molecular gastronomy aside, the foods that Americans expect on their dinner menus and dinner tables fill only a short list.  Despite our claims to ethnic diversity, we cannot claim to be adventurous diners.  How did Americans develop their tastes for hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes?  Who put the comfort in large servings of ice cream, fried chicken, and nachos?

Before you stop for that next bucket of chicken, unwrap your next juicy hamburger, or buy another case of diet soda, consider their history.  Until Americans started assembling automobiles, sewing shirts, and manufacturing steel, they grew or hunted their own food.  If a family wanted bread, they grew and harvested wheat.  Someone had to mix and knead the dough for that bread, too.  A chicken dinner required killing and dressing a chicken as well as baking or frying it.  Americans ate substantial meals because they needed the calories for daylong physical labor in their fields, forests, barnyards, and kitchens.  Cooking meals was a fulltime job; it required chopping wood, picking vegetables and fruit, butchering animals, canning produce, and milking cows.

It wasn’t until the introduction of mass production at the dawn of the Industrial Age that Americans chose quantity over quality and efficiency over conviviality.  Clearly, freedom from kitchen duties, satiation, and convenience reward the fast food consumer.  Indeed, at the height of the Industrial Age, Americans were content to consume Velveeta cheese, green Jell-O, strawberry Kool-Aid, and Chef Boyardee canned pasta.  Not content with the ease of preparing dinner from packages of powders, canned carbohydrates, and frozen vegetables, Americans invented the microwave oven, Pop-Tarts, and the drive-through restaurant.  Now that Americans have achieved excellence in the speed of delivery and the size of portions of food, what’s next?  Is it possible to have convenience and good health, too?  What do you think?  Read more about this issue right here in the next few weeks.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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