Thursday, May 10, 2012

America’s Going Virtual -- Who gets left behind?

By Stephanie and Eric Stradford

AMWS, May 10, 2012, Virtual -- After her chainsaw incident in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Tyler Perry’ fictitious Madea, placed under house arrest with an ankle bracelet, touches ever so lightly on the evolving social science behind virtual incarceration.

In real-life Washington, DC, the “Po Po” used virtual traffic management to “tag” an unsuspecting speeder. They photographed the license plates, sent a digital image via snail mail and demanded payment. Whether you did it or didn’t is a non issue. You pay the fine, and everything is just fine.

The economic reality of higher gas prices, overpopulated prisons and shrinking budgets is moving art closer to science and, science closer to faith. The National Science Foundation now describes a virtual organization as “a group of individuals whose members and resources may be dispersed geographically, but who function as a coherent unit through the use of cyber infrastructure.”

Sometime before NSF came to accept this perception, a faithful few of the world’s 1.3 billion Christians believed in a “substance of things hoped for” and “evidence of things not seen.” The Apostle Paul described an entity as such in his letter to the Corinthians. “Let there be no divisions in the church,” he wrote. “Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”

Paul’s letter reflected a vision of the future for a virtual entity believed by some to be Church Universal. In September 2006, organizers for Youth Achievers USA Institute followed a vision for virtual existence, parked it in a regional community identified by the federal government as The Atlanta Federal Reserve Region, and set up shop at

Some non-believers in the six-state region thought it far-fetched to operate from the Internet. “How do I get to your office?” they would ask. “Where should I send your mail?” Or, our favorite, what’s your local church affiliation…you know, where you worship, serve and pay your tithes and offerings? “Haven’t seen you guys in a while,” said one bishop. There was no appropriate response to offer.

The unfortunate reality for religious resisters to change can be summed up in the now familiar heartbreaker, “it’s the economy…stupid.” Once upon a time, burning questions about whether operations via Internet could be (or not be) mattered. That “crystal ball” revealed that 80.6% of 2.5 million African Methodists think the government should do more to help needy Americans. By comparison, four other groups surveyed included American Baptist Churches in the USA (67.1%), Church of God in Christ (76.7%), United Methodist Church (55.5%) and Atheists (65.4%), In reality, the government is doing more to help people in need. But there’s a disconnect between hungry folk, folks with food and folks with information to locate the chow line.

“Virtual organizations are increasingly central to the science and engineering projects funded by the National Science Foundation,” states a current federal grant announcement. “Focused investments in socio-technical analyses of virtual organizations are necessary to harness their full potential and the promise they offer for discovery and learning.”
The National Science Foundation’s VOSS program (Virtual Organizations as Socio-technical Systems) does not support proposals that aim to implement or evaluate individual virtual organizations, the grant applies federal dollars to scientific research, particularly advances in social, organizational and design. Political Scientists need to study how to develop virtual organizations and under what conditions virtual organizations can enable and enhance scientific, engineering, and education production and innovation.

Disciplinary perspectives may include (but are not limited to) anthropology, complexity sciences, computer and information sciences, decision and management sciences, economics, engineering, organization theory, organizational behavior, social and industrial psychology, public administration, political science and sociology.

Unemployed or underemployed church members may hold advance degrees in some of these areas. They have been hearing, “you are over qualified.” But the reality is that they have been looking in the wrong place. Many will migrate to ministry without a clue of the endless opportunities for that discipline in the global economy.

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