Cold Comfort: The Ethnography of Refrigerators [Slide Show]

What a ubiquitous appliance reveals about us

By Krystal D'Costa

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Growth drives refrigeration: 

The widespread use of refrigerators can be tied to the rise in urban populations. As we began to move, we needed alternative ways to preserve foods quickly on short trips for distribution.....[ More ]

The reign of the icebox: 

The precursor to the modern refrigerator was widespread through the 1940s. In its simplest form it was a wooden cabinet that housed a block of ice. It was often lined with tin or zinc and insulated with sawdust or seaweed.....[ More ]

A ritual space: 

It wasn’t long before these machines, decorated by representations of ourselves, became deeply intertwined in our lives, offering personal glimpses into our lifestyles.....[ More ]

It’s not just clutter: 

What may look like a mess to an outsider is actually a carefully curated display of people, places and events. Like any good display, eye-level material is the most important to an individual.....[ More ]

Keeping us on track: 

At the most basic level, the refrigerator becomes a reminder space, sort of a household town square. It helps us track upcoming events, doctor’s appointments and other important things. It’s often one of the stops we make in the morning, which makes it a handy medium to convey information.....[ More ]

A view from the side: 

Even people who despise clutter—or have nonmagnetic refrigerators—find usable spaces for the information they need to access most readily.....[ More ]

Kids can play, too: 

The central location of the refrigerator makes it a communal space, so that families with kids often share this area. Adults get the higher spaces but younger family members curate the content on the lower reaches, giving them an important area for self-expression.....[ More ]

A personal record:

In the absence of invitations, reminders and photographs the refrigerator becomes a depository for the detritus of our lives, producing meaning from the curious or mundane items we collect and share.&....[ More ]

A blank canvas: 

​Sometimes a refrigerator is intentionally left blank—but even that represents the life and times of its owner, who may have moved or does not believe in clutter. The façade of the refrigerator changes with us, highlighting the milestones in our lives and those in the lives of loved ones.....[ More ]

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