A global, personalized culture

One of the intriguing things about the world of global markets and global technology we have entered is the opportunity it offers us to create our own personalized culture. Unique and narrow interests are no longer discriminated against. If you're into, say, Japanese animation or Scandinavian metal, giant internet stores like Amazon makes this as easy to buy as Britney Spears. (Discovering it is a separate problem.) And whatever else you're interested in, there's a community out there with people who share it: mailing lists, web boards, blogs and web magazines.

Technology is making culture a reflection of personal choice, not of geography. The question is what this will do to our old, geographically based identities.

Cultural identity is today almost synonymous with geographic identity. Whatever else our identity is made of, geography is considered supreme. We are Norwegians, Americans, Germans first - anything else is "subculture". But it doesn't take much contact with people from "other" cultures to realize that our subculture often says more about who we are than our culture. A geek is a geek anywhere. I'm more similar to my readers and other political bloggers all over the world than to my next door neighbours.

Technology is helping these subcultures to rise above borders, and form international communities. Our geographical culture can be seen as forming a stage, one big place where everything that is relevant to members of that culture takes place, and vice versa, (whatever happens there becomes relevant). This is the stage our national news operate on, the place we go to when we talk about what our country is and has. Subcultures are now forming such stages too. Slashdot and similar sites form a common stage for the world's geeks and techies. The political blogosphere forms a common stage for anyone who's interested in politics.

Like the geographical stages, which form a hierarchy, (world, continent, nation, region, city), subcultural stages also form a hierarchy based on shared vs narrow interests. All the world's political blogs wrote about the war in Iraq. Not everyone writes about Islam, the EU, or Norwegian politics. But unlike the geographical hierarchy, there's nothing restrictive about the subcultural hierarchy. As a member of the Oslo branch of the Norway branch of Scandinavian culture, it is difficult to learn about events in say the Gothenburg branch in Sweden - those events have to filter upwards to the Scandinavian level before they can make their way down to me again through regular media channels. But nothing at all prevents me from staying up to date on important events in 15 different branches of the geek subculture.

So while subcultures do form hierarchies, when we look at individuals we see a subcultural patchwork, with pieces from here and there mixed together in patterns uniquely appropriate to those individuals, with a sense of identity connected as much with like-minded people across the world as with people nearby. A global, personalized culture.

Despite this, there are several forces working to keep geographical identities from falling apart. The first is language, which preserve geographical identities by restricting communication across borders. The second is inertia. Our culture has been restricted by geography so long that most of our institutions have formed around it. The entire news media business, for instance, is built on top of the geographical hierarchy of stages.

The third and perhaps most powerful is politics. Geography is the natural unit of politics, which means there will probably always be a geographical hierarchy of political institutions. Education and other public services are part of this, giving us a permanent geographical foundation for everything else to stand on.

And finally there are social networks, which will always have a strong geographical component. Even if there were no other forces preserving geographical identities, the fact alone that people prefer to associate with people close to them would be enough to maintain local variation, with new trends forming at one place and spreading slowly or not at all to the rest of the world, like waves on an ocean.

The interaction between these forces and the global, personalized culture will be fascinating to watch. It's not a question of anyone "winning", or even of finding a stable balance. But I think it's time we acknowledge that geography may not be the most important part of our cultural identity for much longer - I know it's not of mine - and that this may be a good thing.


Has anyone read "The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God" If so, thoughts?

I too am greatly fascinated by this rise in personalised, non-regionally derived culture. However, I think in many respects regionally effects will continually hamper the growth of a truly global culture, even one with personal variation.

For instance, many of us obviously are dependent in part upon the society in which we physically inhabit. Ie; they may have expectations placed upon one relating to gossip, news, sport, celebs that only a local would know, internalise and care about. With a lack of knowledge in these areas being regarded as inexcusiable. Placing limites on both Globalisation and personalisation.


I think your religion related comment, would more suited to any one of Bjorn's religist related postings.





David Elson: Ie; they may have expectations placed upon one relating to gossip, news, sport, celebs that only a local would know, internalise and care about. With a lack of knowledge in these areas being regarded as inexcusiable.

Yes, but some of this is also a product of identities being geographical in the first place. Why should you care more about a national celebrity than a celebrity in your field of interest? In my world, people like Joe Straczynksi and Joss Whedon are celebrities - what they do matters to me. The latest Norwegian Big Brother does not.

I share your views, and would put it even stronger - this may not be a good thing - it is a good thing. Growing up in a reasonably urbanized part of Norway in the seventies, I often felt an outsider when it came to, say, reading habits or musical taste. Now I don't only have the global marektplace there at my fingertips, there are also all those communities where I can share my interests, however obscure.
Authors can communicate with their readers, music fans can swap recordings, bloggers can give each other instant feedback.
Luckily, we are not in Kansas any more.

I think you are underestimating the whole language thing. For example, when you say "Technology is making culture a reflection of personal choice" that's all very well as long as you can communicate via that technology in English.

Thanks - you've given me some food for thought which I will chew over today or tomorrow in my blogEm duas línguas.

--In my world, people like Joe Straczynksi and Joss Whedon are celebrities ---


I want my Buffy

I want my Fray

I want my B5 universe.

Ok, ok, maybe I'll go see Serenity. but it's not the same.

Interesting topic, indeed.
I share the view that technology is good for sharing and developing interests etc, and to some extent this goes outside the geographical cultural context.
Definately internet technologies offer good opportunities, and new dimensions.
Nevertheless, its ease of use, as well as the faceless/anonymous and problemfree-access to whatever we seek, might be a danger to local cultural habits that suppose personal and physical presence.
This might be a risk. (Especially if we all turn in to what you call geeks...)
A risk that these new cultural (global) dimensions were to overshadow existing geographically dependent cultural values that we do not really want to disappear.


No problem, I can adapt to any culture as long as they serve beer or wine with or without food. :-)


What role do you see cultural values, moral values, religion, etc playing in your international view?

I personally think this is going to be more of a problem than language or politics in the long run.

Bjorn, I know I'm coming late to this thread, but I can't resist adding my bit.

One way to look at culture is as a model of the world in our minds, and a set of directions as to how we should behave in that world. You'd be surprised how much extraneous stuff can be added - anime from Japan, salsa from the Caribbean, almost everything else from China - while the model and the directions remain largely unchanged.

You, for example, manage to absorb many ideas from, say, Hayek, the high priest of competitive capitalism, yet your modes of expression, and the character that emerges in your blog, seems to me very Scandinavian (tentative, tolerant, nonconfrontational, etc.).

I believe the great historical cultures will be with us for a long time, and for both good and evil. Globalization, at its best, allows us to cherry-pick from each, enriching our lives, but at its worst it pits one model and direction against another in the same small marketplace.

A personalized culture is just an individuals extension of a subculture. Subcultures are developed in larger societies to solve structural contradictions rising from a wide social context.

Still most people will be rooted in both their national/geograpic culture as well as one or more subcultures, making all of us multicultural beings. And I find that a good thing.

Hi Bjorn
Came across your blog. Impressed. Will you help me start an English/Norwegian blog? Norwegian born. Korea Air Force Veteran
Old time Republican. Open to any suggestion including Opera.
Please Comment

Hei igjen Bjorn
Ser frem til ditt svar paa mitt 08-03 innlegg. Kan godt tenke meg a "quid pro quo" tilbud fra deg hvis to har tid. Det er din blog oppstilling som intresserer, med RSS feed, preview, import/export, OPML press-feed eller andre hjelpemidler som feed- burner i norge.


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